By Kiley Reid, A novel examining "woke" racism and privilege
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid came out in late 2019 with some pretty solid buzz, but some mixed reviews. I’ve seen people who loved it, but others have had really lukewarm reactions. So, I was curious to see for myself, but it’s been low on my list of priorities.
However, I came across Trevor Noah’s interview with Kiley Reid the other day it really renewed my interest in reading this.
See the Full Plot Synopsis & Summary for Such A Fun Age (spoilers). For the spoiler-free version:
Such A Fun Age is about Emira, a 25-year-old black woman, who is working as a babysitter to raise Briar, a 3-year-old white girl. It’s a story that examines modern racism by depicting the fallout after Emira is hassled and accused of being a kidnapper when she takes Briar to the supermarket.
See Such A Fun Age on Amazon.
Such A Fun Age is a breezy book that covers an interesting topic, “woke” racism. Racism coming from people who don’t consider themselves racist and very likely think of themselves as progressives is something that doesn’t get covered nearly as much or as thoroughly as it should.
But Such A Fun Age also doesn’t push hard enough at the topic it’s exploring to feel all that revelatory and suffers from other issues as well.
The novel is written with a twenty-something audience in mind. Our protagonist and her friends are at that distinct point in life where they’re just starting out in their careers and things like marriage or kids seems like distant speck in the future. Stylistically, the book is cool and chill, and the dialogue utilizes a lot of slang and pop culture references, such as Instagram and the like. Sometimes it (arguably) verged on trying too hard to be “current” and young, but the point is that it has a very specific audience it’s catering to.
I loved that this book was trying to tackle the topic of “woke” racism, and that is easily the strongest aspect of this story. There are plenty of people who consider themselves progressive that still act according to racist assumptions. Despite what the casual tone of this story would suggest, this is not an easy topic to tackle. Blatant racism is simpler, but woke racism often involves a lot of nuance. I wish Such A Fun Age would have pushed a little harder or offered more insights at times into these situations, but it definitely offers some worthwhile conversation-starters regardless.
Reid uses her story to make complex points in a subtle way. For example, at one point, one of Emira’s employer’s well-to-do black friends, Tamra, tries to relate to Emira by talking about her hair to Emira’s great discomfort. It’s a good example of why inter-sectionality matters. Tamra is black, but also of a higher socio-economic status than Emira. The two aren’t entirely able to relate and the pandering is uncomfortable. Reid is able to depict this in a straightforward manner.
The thing that I found extremely distracting, though, was how much Such A Fun Age felt like some type of weird wish fulfillment (or axe-grinding) for the author. Reid was a nanny for six years, and our main character Emira is a sitter. Apart from not knowing what she wants in life yet, Emira has everything going for her. Meanwhile, her employer Alix (and essentially the chief antagonist here) seems like a mess in every way other than socioeconomic status.
The book technically is told from both Emira and Alix’s points of view, but is so blatantly lopsided that it never feels that way. I’m someone who has a lot more in common with Emira than Alix, but the depiction of Alix feels so uncharitable and devoid of empathy that I found myself feeling bad for Alix.
Alix becomes obsessed with trying to impress Emira and getting to know her. Alix calls and texts her friends asking for help on what to say to Emira and to talk about how great Emira is, acting more like a besotted teenager than someone who is employing someone else for a service. Reid also repeatedly notes how uncool Alix is and how Alix is a few pounds too heavy. Alix is also a bad mother (despite having the capability to be better), and her career has stalled out. As a cherry on the top, Emira is also dating the handsome, tall man that once spurned Alix and who Alix is still infatuated with.
The whole thing was a bit much to be honest, and I kept getting the distinct feeling that Reid had some very specific people in mind when writing Alix. It felt a little like someone writing a fan fiction version of their own life. Alix is such a one-dimensional and unfortunate character that even when she gets her comeuppance, there’s no joy in it because she doesn’t feel real.
It’s especially unfortunate, because for me it detracted from the very legitimate points that Reid was making about race and a young black woman raising a white child. I loved when Reid brought up things like how employees providing benefits and career structure is so much more important and meaningful than trying to buddy up to your nanny. I wished she would have spent more time on that and less on beating Alix up like a very bad and very dead horse.
Despite being a main POV character, Alix does not get any type of emotional journey in this book, since she’s essentially a straw-man character that’s set up for Reid to poke fun at. By the time it gets to the part where it sexually degrades Alix by depicting a scene where she gets her hair done just so it bobs around as her husband takes her from behind, I was so disgusted that I stopped caring what happens to any of the characters.
Such A Fun Age Film Adaptation
The film rights for Such A Fun Age have already been acquired. I could definitely see this being reworked into a better movie than it is a book. For all the details, see Everything We Know about the Such A Fun Age Movie.
Read it or Skip it?
I liked the premise of this book and was instantly drawn into it wanting to know what would happen next after the supermarket incident, but ended up disliking this book. There’s moments of insight buried in the text, but it gets lost in a lot of axe-grinding.
Modern racism, intersectionality and more nuanced versions of racism are all topics that are in desperate need of thorough exploration and more stories, but this book gets distracted by petty things like harping on Alix’s weight. It didn’t push hard enough at the important topics and instead spent all its time on a self-indulgent quest to show how cool and superior Emira was to Alix in every way.
Such A Fun Age is a fast read, so if you’re curious, you can probably get through it in a night or two or over a weekend. But I’m not going to be recommending it to anyone.
See Such A Fun Age on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
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