Briskly told and devilishly well-plotted, Such a Fun Age follows a young black babysitter and her affluent white employer in the months following a racially motivated public altercation in an upscale grocery. Although strewn with emails, tweets, blogs and texts, Kiley Reid’s game-changing debut novel is rooted in classic dialogue-driven storytelling and is a marker for precisely where our culture is today.
Alix Chamberlain and her family have recently relocated to Philadelphia. Alix makes her living as a blogger, and now with an established brand, LetterSpeak, she has speaking engagements and a book contract. Emira is the babysitter for Alix’s precocious and sensitive toddler, Briar. Almost 26, Emira is frustrated by her lack of money and direction. Even more so, she fears the imminent loss of her health insurance.
When a security guard in an upscale grocery store accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, a crowd gathers. A white bystander named Kelley films the altercation, then offers to send the video to the local news. Emira is mortified, but she and Kelley begin dating, while the existence of the video remains a sore point between them. When the news that Kelly and Alix had a relationship in high school comes to light, Emira feels even more uncomfortable. Despite assurances from her boyfriend and employer that they are acting on her behalf, it’s not clear who speaks for Emira and why she can’t speak up for herself.
Such a Fun Age hits every note just right—from Alix’s self-righteous frustration to Emira’s ambivalence about accepting help. What takes the book to the next level is its willingness to go beyond where the story naturally leads. This is a tale without a heroine or villain; instead it’s a clear-eyed look at the complex transactional relationship that exists between mothers and nannies, while never shying away from the tender closeness that often grows between babysitters and their charges.
Smart, witty and even a bit sly, this penetrating social commentary is also one of this year’s most enjoyable novels.