Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is a tale about a millennial black woman who gets caught between her white boss and her white boyfriend after a racial incident while on the job leaves her vulnerable. Though the book rides on the racial divide, it fails to make the characters likeable and the main character is riding in the backseat of her own story.
Emira Tucker is partying with her friends when she gets a call from a couple, the Chamberlains, she regularly babysits for. She ditches the party while in her party clothes to save toddler Briar from her parents as they deal with an unexpected situation in their home. With an upscale grocery store down the street, Emira decides to take Briar there to buy time. Being a black woman in a skimpy dress baby-sitting a young white girl rings the alarm for one customer. Soon, the security guard is asking Emira why she has custody of Briar, assuming some type of kidnapping. The event escalates then cools off when Mr. Chamberlain shows up.
Emira doesn’t want to talk about the event, but the wife and mother, Alix Chamberlain, a well-to-do lifestyle expert, wants to take Emira under her wing by offering Emira more gigs and getting other ways for her to take care of things around the house. Emira doesn’t pick up on any changes because she’s desperate for money.
Soon, Emira meets Kelley, a white guy she remembered seeing at the store during the incident. In fact, he taped the incident and tries to convince Emira to approve its release. She doesn’t want to. Kelley then goes out of his way to date Emira, and they become an item. But it turns out Alix and Kelley have history with each other that dates back to high school when they were dating until a racial profiling incident ends their relationship.
With Kelley thinking he knows Alix’s motives around Emira with Alix growing up with black nannies, he also may have a motive of his own with only dating women of color. As they bicker about who will reveal themselves to Emira, Emira is oblivious to everything going on around her, including not taking the lead on her own life with being reduced to just baby-sitting Briar as a college graduate.
After the secrets between Alix and Kelley are revealed, Emira takes note and eventually finds her happy ending. But it takes too long for Emira to wake up. She doesn’t want the video of the incident to get out, but she’s not vocal enough expressing her concerns about safety if the video surfaces publicly. Because the incident fades more and more throughout the book and then pops up again, her character personality gets faded, too. She’s a Temple University grad, but she’s baby-sitting and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life at 25 years old. Many black women college graduates have more direction, so this part of the story falls flat. Why is she not ambitious? Why is she half-awake? If the why is there, then that also falls flat.
Also, I don’t know a lot of black women who would subject themselves to being that close to a white family that they work with. Even at 25, that’s something they would handle delicately if ever in that situation. Emira’s devotion to Briar mirrors that of Aibileen in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, where the “you is kind, you is smart, you is important” speech that Viola Davis voiced as the character onscreen to the little white girl she’s responsible for is still a running joke.
Emira comes alive with her friends, but there’s too much focus on the Ebonics within their interactions to the point their conversations have no meaning; they’re just using a blaccent to be using a blaccent. On Good Morning America for a Black History Month literary segment, author Kiley Reid said, “As I’ve been touring, a lot of black women have said, ‘This is the first book I’ve read where I hear me and my friends talking,’ so I’m so glad they can hear themselves in it.” Black women readers told me NOT to read this book. They couldn’t explain why, just shook their heads no.
It’s hard to explain why we needed this to be the story that brings up race and privilege. The issues are dropped into the storyline but among unlikable, stereotypical characters who don’t know how to play with those themes. With a future film coming out, this book can come off stronger like Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, where those themes are more emphasized onscreen, making the story more entertaining.
Overall, this book is hard to decipher as a story that’s relatable and necessary to strike the conversation the publisher is pushing in its marketing strategy for readers to have.