Such a Fun Age

Kiley Reid

Published by G.P. Putnam US/Bloomsbury Circus UK

31 December 2019/January 2020

Hardback, 320pp

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

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What an appealing debut this is. Reid’s first novel is a fresh, funny, insightful assessment of how one young African American woman navigates her life between the Scylla and Charybdis of white privilege and inherent racism.

Twenty-six-year-old Emira Tucker has no evident chips on her shoulder nor axes to grind, and she’s not especially political either. She’s just a bright, articulate, open woman with a college degree who hasn’t yet identified where her working destiny lies. Meanwhile she has a group of intensely loyal girlfriends and a part-time job as babysitter for the children of white Alix Chamberlain, an aspiring self-promoter with limited time and self-awareness.

Reid brings energy and balance to the juxtaposition of these perspectives, Alix both self-critical and unaware, Emira insightful but non-confrontational. Meanwhile the dialogue crackles and snaps, both in Emira’s social group and Alix’s – she too is blessed with a group of tirelessly supportive mothers who reinforce Alix’s grievances and efforts to be ‘woke’.

The story beings with Emira responding to a late-night plea that she tend Alix’s oldest child, two-year-old Briar, after an emergency in the home. Emira takes Briar to a nearby upscale supermarket, only to find herself accused of kidnapping by a suspicious white woman and then a security guard. Her efforts to defend herself and Briar are captured on video by a passing stranger.

From these events spring Emira’s relationship with a white man who, it turns out, knew a much younger Alix from school days. Money, misunderstanding, race, reputation and so much more jostle in this modern, clever and careful book which also radiates with love. Emira’s relationship with tiny Briar is one of the novel’s notable strengths, for its fondness and emotional authenticity.

Nuanced and highly readable – and visual – this is a novel that treads deftly through a contemporary minefield. Reid’s perceptive, warm-hearted work will make waves, and deservedly so.

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