Such a fun age to learn from one another

Karin Lock reviews Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Last month saw the introduction of Britain’s first ever race equality week. This long-overdue initiative was devised as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Book lists were drawn up to educate readers about structural
racism, explaining concepts such as unconscious bias, white privilege and racial blindness.

One notable newcomer to those lists is Such a Fun Age, one of the most successful debut novels of 2020, both UK and stateside. African American author Kiley Reid has captured the mood of this time with her page-turning domestic satire about political correctness.

The story opens in an upmarket Philadelphia grocery store. Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old Black female graduate, is accused by store security, of kidnapping the white child she is babysitting. A customer videos the confrontation and offers to post it online. Meanwhile, the child’s mother Alix Chamberlain, is at home dealing with the fallout from her husband’s racially biased comments on TV.

Alix Chamberlain is a self-absorbed, publicity-hungry feminist influencer who wants free-time to write. Anxious that Emira may now leave (and that her husband’s slip-up will ruin her career), Alix realises she has never really spoken to her employee: “she had no idea if her babysitter was the type of person to cry, sue or do nothing at all.”

This book is an entertaining look at white saviour syndrome and liberal guilt. Now that Emira is no longer ‘invisible’, Alix becomes obsessed with getting her babysitter to like her so that she can ‘help’ her. Oblivious to her deluded employer’s interventions, Emira is preoccupied with looking for a new job that will pay
her health insurance.

Like a Jonathan Franzen novel, Such a Fun Age exquisitely dissects white middle- class hypocrisy. Scorning the unfashionable provincial white folk of Philadelphia, Alix feels affinity with Emira because: “one of Alix’s closest friends was also Black… [and] Alix had read everything that Toni Morrison had ever written.”

Inspired by the writer’s childminding experiences as a student, this thought-provoking narrative contrasts the two main characters by using alternating mini chapters. The fast paced action moves the tale along through ingenious plot twists and turns. A posse of hilarious supporting
characters offer social commentary to the main action.

Such a Fun Age advocates the view that people are not the sum basis of their career achievements or daily productivity. Everyone has an inherent self-worth that transcends another person’s approval, opinion or judgement of them. We also have the right to privacy, freedom of expression, and to say ‘no’.

Invisibility leaves people feeling invalidated and tokenism is not change. Such a Fun Age shares these uncomfortable stories – of daily micro aggressions – and forces readers to be honest about themselves and their behaviours. The author is saying we can learn from each other, but we have to be willing to learn.

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