From the Library is a regular column reviewing New York Times Best Sellers.
Kiley Reid’s debut novel “Such a Fun Age” came into the literary world with a spark and a boom. One of the most highly anticipated books of the new decade, Reid’s novel garnered widespread attention, the jacket of my hardcover copy stuffed with glowing reviews from the likes of Jojo Meyers and Emma Straub, authors of “Me Before You” and “Modern Lovers,” respectively. It was hard not to have high hopes for a story that boasted a delicate balance between an intimate discussion of modern race relations and a diverse cast of characters in which no one was really the villain. But boy, Reid exceeded those expectations.
Emira Tucker is a 25-year-old black woman who works as a babysitter for the rich, white Alix Chamberlain. Emira loves Alix’s 3-year-old daughter, Briar, and doesn’t hesitate to leave her friend’s birthday party late one night when Alix calls in a panic asking if Emira can take Briar for a couple hours. What starts out as an impromptu grocery store visit to keep Briar occupied turns into a racially charged confrontation when the store security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping.
The conflict ends, all things considered, relatively peacefully, with Briar’s father coming to the store in Emira’s defense. However, the events at Market Depot shake both Emira and the Chamberlains. Not only does Alix suddenly take an intense, and borderline obsessive, interest in Emira, who she sees as needing her guidance and support, but the harassment results in someone from Alix’s past crashing into Emira’s present.
I expected “Such a Fun Age” to center on the Market Depot altercation, especially after a bystander films the encounter. Nevertheless, most of the novel focuses on Alix attempting to befriend her babysitter and Emira’s challenges balancing a new relationship alongside the realization that she needs to find a full-time job. While the overarching conflict of the story is rooted in the fact that Emira wants the video deleted, much to the dismay of her well-meaning white boyfriend, one of the best parts of this book is the range of topics that Reid covers.
Alternating perspectives between Emira and Alix, “Such a Fun Age” doesn’t only add to the discussion of underlying prejudice that still exists in our society; through believable and relatable characters, Reid tackles issues such as being an unwittingly inadequate mother, searching for one’s identity when it seems like everyone else has it all figured out, feelings of worth and value, and the challenging argument of intent vs. impact. Even though all of the characters make major missteps throughout the book, Reid underlines each character’s perspective not just to help the reader understand why they made those major missteps, but rather to get across that at the end of the day, no one in the story ever feels like they made a bad choice. Past experiences, ignorance and selfishness blind most of the cast throughout the book.
While reading, I had to fight myself not to skip ahead to learn what happens with Emira and Alix. The climax of the book and the resolution are both incredibly satisfying and believable. There are no happy endings in “Such a Fun Age,” but there’s also no life-transforming heartbreak. The characters change, but not necessarily in the best ways, and Emira is really the only one that leaves the situation stronger and happier, which makes the book so much stronger than what could have been merely a tool for a person of color to teach white people about race.
In response to the question of whether Reid’s novel deserves a spot on the Best Sellers list, it has absolutely earned its place. I loved this book. It was a fantastic addition to the ongoing and ever-important conversation about race while first and foremost being a strong and compelling story.