Review: Such A Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
Okay I'm going to attempt to do this in the most thoughtful way possible - since I, a white woman, am not exactly best placed to comment on the lived experiences of a black woman. And I'm also not the best placed to comment on what is essentially an exploration of how messy and complicated the different dynamics of privilege are, and how creepily close 'well-intentioned' white people can come to fetishization.
Having said that, here goes. I really, really loved this book and completely understand why it was longlisted for the Man Booker last year. The writing was clever, poignant, and searing. I also really enjoyed the way Kiley Reid flipped the traditional plot structure on its head, starting with the climax of the novel - the scene in the grocery store where Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar, the little girl she babysits - and then deconstructs the fallout from the multiple different points of view. I also loved that none of the chapters felt rushed - we got to spend a lot of time in each of the characters' heads and internal monologues, getting to know them and their motivations, and none of the characters were presented to us in a way that felt biased by the author. Reid just gave us these portraits of these different types of people, and we were allowed to draw our own conclusions about who they were and why they were doing what they did. That is a unique authorial gift, and not one that every one possesses.
I thought this book did an excellent job of satirizing and critiquing the basis for our own domestic biases, and pointing out the blinkers that we all have and how easily we can fumble when trying to take them off. Alix Chamberlain, a caricature of an Instagram influencer, was so perfectly on point as someone who tries very hard to be 'woke' that I legitimately cringed at some points in her internal monologue. And yet, even though both she and Emira's boyfriend Kelley are varying shades of embarrassing and cringe-worthy, it's very, very hard to hate them - Reid navigates the balance between satire and compassion with sharp, lovely deftness. Vox has a very good review of this book here, which I recommend reading.
As a main character, Emira was also painfully relatable. She's 25, about to be kicked off her parents' health insurance, worried that all of her friends are becoming real adults and leaving her behind. As someone who's got friends who are starting to have babies (this one happened yesterday and let me tell you, reader, it sent me into a real tailspin), and someone with lots of wedding invitations starting to pile up while I still can't really get a promising Hinge boy to text with any sort of regularity, and someone who's friends are almost all in the income bracket several notches above mine, Emira's internal monologue hit hard. Kiley Reid addressed those issues with compassion and empathy, and without ever making Emira or her friends too hard on the struggles of trying to figure out what the fuck you're doing with your life in your twenties. And I also really appreciated that Reid didn't do this novel's equivalent of marrying everyone off at the end of it - Emira gets a job with benefits and a contracted payslip, but it's an entry-level position, and she hasn't found her niche. She still has work to do, and we've acknowledged the road left to travel, but we're allowed to have hope that something's started, and it might trickle out into starting for everyone who's read it as well.
All told, I highly, highly recommend this book - it is excellently well-written and there's a lot to unpack and take away from it, without ever feeling like you should feel, as a white person, proud of being seen reading it on the subway (that might make less sense in actual words than it did in my head). It's also absolutely hilarious - I was laughing out loud at least once a chapter, and I was sad to leave the characters behind when I finished the last page. I am eagerly awaiting whatever Kiley Reid writes next, and she's well on her way to becoming an auto-buy author for me. The fact that she's a debut author makes me angry at myself and my lack of talent.