Friday 7 February 2020

Book Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hardcover, 320 pages.
Release date: January 7th 2020.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

What happens when you do the right thing for the wrong reason? 

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right. 

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other. 

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

One of the most buzzed about debuts of 2020, Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age introduces thirty-something mother-of-two Alix, a successful blogger, along with twenty-five year old Emira, who works as Alix’s childminder. The story begins when Alix, experiencing a late night disturbance at home, calls on Emira to remove her three-year-old daughter Briar from a potentially dangerous situation, by way of taking her on a late-night outing to a nearby upscale grocery store. Once there, Emira attracts unwanted attention from a security guard who, upon seeing a black woman out late at night with a white child, jumps to the conclusion that Emira has kidnapped Briar. A heated conversation ensues, the whole scene is filmed by a late-night shopper, and by the time Briar’s dad races to the store to rectify the situation, Emira just wants to go home and forget about the whole thing. But Alix. Alix can’t forget about what happened. She’s offended, no outraged, on Emira’s behalf. She’s mortified too that her actions put Emira in such a potentially dangerous situation. Alix resolves to make things right.

A book that focuses of themes of race, class and privilege could make for a pretty weighty read, but thanks Reid’s easy breezy style, Such a Fun Age is a page-turner that downplays its unsettling inciting incident to instead focus on the relationship between Alix and Emira, two very different women, with almost nothing in common, who just happen to spend most of their days together.  While Emira loves spending time with Briar, with whom she shares an unbreakable bond, this twenty-something woman who loves to party with her friends, and has recently hooked up with the late-night-shopper who filmed the ‘grocery store incident,’ has no real interest in getting to know Alix. Simply put, all Emira wants from her relationship with Alix is the paycheck Alix hands her at the end of the working week. Alix, on the other hand, wants to get to know Emira. And while Alix knows she must be careful so as not to overstep, she’s determined to help Emira out – to improve the younger woman’s lot in life. The problem is: Emira never asked for Alix’s help.

As annoying characters go I have to say that Alix is pretty high up on the scale: privileged, successful and presumptuous in the extreme, it never occurs to Alix that her behaviour – she checks Emira’s text messages on the regular as a means of gaining information and making conversation – is wholly inappropriate. However, when a piece of Alix’s illicitly gained information leads to Emira accepting an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, Alix gets more than she bargained for when a face from her past – one who knew Alex before she was Alix – shows up at her door. From that point on, Alix is more determined than ever to ‘Save Emira’ even when Emira makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t need saving. It also becomes pretty clear, as we learn more about Alix’s past - and her present - that Alix is not in a position to save anyone. Maybe, like most of us, she should just focus bettering herself. Problem is, Alix thinks she’s pretty much perfect. It’s everyone else that’s the problem.

A sharply observed, self-assured debut, Such a Fun Age is a compelling character study and social commentary that sparkles with wit, charm and a whole lot of sass.

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