Kiley Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age, strikingly emphasizes different takes on political correctness from the perspectives of millennials from different classes and backgrounds. Her book shows how one person’s personal but familiar nightmare can be turned into another’s publicity stunt—and the levels of privilege that these situations reveal.
Twenty-five-year-old Emira is a struggling babysitter for a wealthy family in Philadelphia. The Chamberlains haven’t yet given her nanny status, so the gig provides no benefits, and Emira is about to lose her parents’ insurance coverage when she turns twenty-six. She can’t help but compare herself to her successful friends, wondering why her humbler career goals make her less worthy of true adulthood.
But the book begins with an incident that sparks skepticism and judgment, unleashing otherwise unthinkable actions. One night when Emira is out with friends, she gets a call from her employer Alix Chamberlain, girl-power entrepreneur, begging Emira to come babysit her daughter Briar while the family deals with an emergency. Alix sends Emira to a nearby upscale grocery store with the toddler, where Emira is questioned by a security guard on whether she, a young black woman dressed for a night out with friends, has kidnapped small, white Briar. The incident is recorded on a bystander’s iPhone, and leads to an entanglement between Emira and Alix that will make them both question motives and their own identities. An exciting development in Emira’s present conjures Alix’s shameful past.
Reid weaves a compelling narrative from the perspective of these two opposing women: Alix spent her teenage years in a mansion after her parents suddenly became wealthy, New York City is her favorite place, and she has a rich group of girlfriends who drink wine together and discuss glamorous motherhood. Emira also has a solid group of girlfriends supporting her, but she was the first in her family to attend a four-year college, and she can’t shake her insecurity about her job and how little money she’s making, even while she admits that she loves babysitting.
Emira just wants to forget about the grocery store incident—her charming modesty and levelheadedness remain constants throughout the book—and Alix is terrified she’s going to lose Emira as a babysitter. Alix quickly develops an obsession with Emira, secretly reading her text messages and fantasizing about her joining the family forever. She desperately wants Emira to think she’s woke.
Reid’s clear writing style is the perfectly invisible backdrop to the action. Her dialogue is witty and authentic, both for Alix and Emira, whose varied backgrounds contribute to their subtly different English vernaculars. As the drama unfolds, Such a Fun Age sucks you in and surprises you. With this debut novel, Reid provides a fresh look at how racial anxieties can drive both healthy and heated conversations about race, while exposing toxic relationships.
Such a Fun Age
By Kiley Reid
G.P Putnam’s Sons
Published December 31, 2019
Meredith Boe is a Pushcart Prize–nominated writer, editor, and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passengers Journal, Newfound, Another Chicago Magazine, Chicago Reader, Mud Season Review, After Hours, and elsewhere, and her chapbook What City won the 2018 Debut Series Chapbook Contest from Paper Nautilus.