Author Kiley Reid
This year I’ve read a lot of books about the African American experience in the US, set in both present day and the past, most featured strong female characters. While Such A Fun Age appeared to be about the same subject matter, it was relayed somewhat differently. The blurb led me to believe, there’ll be a championing of causes, some support and camaraderie between the two women after a traumatic event. What actually happened made a lot more sense. Especially, once we as the reader gained insight from Emira.
Emira is our African-American protagonist, an average young woman in her mid-twenties baby-sitting the two young daughters of Alix in Philadelphia. Kelley (male) is Emira’s love interest, Peter is married to Alix and there a host of friends on both Emira and and Alix’s lives who support our heroines throughout.
Emira’s struggles with identity, career prospects, romantic relationships and interactions with her employer are fairly standard for women of her age, the cataclysmic dimensions are her race and appearance. Emira is accused of kidnapping her young white charge in a local grocery shop at the onset of the story and we follow the proceeding year of her life. Kelley and Alix, both Caucasian, with intentions of doing good, wage an intrinsically personal and psychological battle over owning/claiming Emira.
The old saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions came to mind several times.
Emira feels the hopelessness of the situation, the regularity of it, the unfairness but she deals with her emotions and wants to move on. It was an incident that happened to her and she wants to deal with it and move on. Alix, feeling responsible in part, guilty in part, does her best to make amends. Impromptu gifts, wine, conspiratorial conversations, wanting to impress and sometimes imitate Emira’s youthful, carefree (assumed) life becomes a source of excitement, entertainment and at times jealousy.
Kelley comes across as problematic at the outset and for me, as the book went on this opinion was further solidified. He doesn’t entirely fetishise (this must be a word) Emira but he does feel the need to be her white protector and champion. Which grates and leaves an awful taste in my mouth. Kelley and Alix’s past history, each told from their perspective allows a good look at who they were as young people and why they’ve ended up where they each are. Some reviewers have likened this to being the antitheses to The Help (a problematic novel for many reasons). I can see what they’re saying, and I find myself agreeing with the bulk of those arguments. Such A Fun Age does show you exactly what agency and voice are – illustrating what it means to let someone speak for themselves and respecting their opinion rather than feeling the need to ‘save’ someone.
One star less as there is a tendency for characters to ramble and some descriptive parts did go on too long for my liking. I found my attention waning during a few particular exchanges between the young friends. Perhaps this is because I wanted to dig into the meat of the story or pick up where the previous chapters had held off. There are subtle nuances throughout that ebb and flow precisely, this made up for a lot of the elongated description, and was what I wanted to get back to.
Overall, the story is told exactly as it should be. I have no higher praise because it has all been said several times. The sass and sincerity of Emira, the oblivious do-gooder intentions of her employer and boyfriend are skilfully told through multiple viewpoints. In making the wider commentary via relatable characters, the author relays her point clearly. I’m adding her to my authors to revisit and you should too.