Oh this book. I enjoyed it SO MUCH. For me, it brought up echoes of other “nanny fiction” (if that’s even a thing) – The Nanny Diaries, Friends and Strangers. But even though I enjoyed both of those older books, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was far and away the best version I’ve ever come across.
Of course, this book is so much more, too. It’s about class, race, the tensions between those who employ and those who serve. It’s about motherhood and adulthood and transition and deciding who you want to be. It’s a wonderful, remarkable, easy to read book – easily one of the best I’ve read so far this year.
Mini Plot Summary: Emira Tucker, a young Black woman trying to find her path in life, applies for a gig babysitting two-year-old Briar. The white woman who hires her – Alix Chamberlain – has just had her second child and moved from bustling New York City to a smaller, more suburban corner of Philadelphia. Both women are embarking on new stages of their lives: Emira is about to lose the safety net of her parents’ insurance and is struggling to figure out what she wants to do for a career; Alix, who has made a name for herself as a sort of self-help guru, feels aimless and out of place in her new lower-key surroundings. She sees Emira as endlessly cool, a potential friend, and a project. Emira, on the other hand, just wants to do good work and show her young charge, Briar, that someone understands how unique and special she is. One evening, while babysitting as an emergency favor for Alix, Emira faces down an accusation that she – a Black woman with a white child – has kidnapped Briar. The experience – witnessed by a crowd of shoppers, filmed by a stranger – leaves Emira feeling humiliated and angry, and all she wants to do is forget it ever happened. Alix, outraged on her behalf, wants to make things right. But the incident itself shakes loose elements of Alix’s past – things she would rather leave buried – and puts the women on an unexpected crash course that could blow up both their lives.
What I Liked About This Book: Characterization is always a big deal for me, and this book did it – chef’s kiss – so incredibly well. Emira was a wonderfully complex, relatable character. Even though I’m quite a distance removed from those early, aimless years out of college, I can still completely empathize with her feelings of uncertainty and urgency and panic about trying to figure out what she should do For the Rest of Her Life. Even in the face of career rootlessness, Emira was such a strong person – she had values and convictions that she stuck to. She was a good friend. She was an excellent employee – and such a wonderful advocate for poor little Briar. Her experiences with everyday racism – both casual and overt – were eye-opening for me, and she dealt with every instance with a stoic dismissiveness that I found heartening and heart breaking. Reid breathed such life into this woman. I rooted for her all the way through the book and would read fifty books with Emira as the protagonist.
Reid was just as deft in crafting the Alix character. Complicated in her behaviors and her motivations, Alix was someone I found realistic and recognizable. Many (most?) of her actions were indefensible and I did not like her one bit, but she was vivid and well-drawn. And even though I could not stand her, I could, at times, empathize with her. She was the manifestation of some of the darker, more uncomfortable traits I recognize in myself, and I suspect that was why I rooted for her redemption even as I cringed away from her in disgust.
Each character also has a friend group that I loved to read about. Aside from each serving to support their respective main character, these groups of women are diametric opposites, in their ambitions and pastimes and palatability. Emira’s friends are people she can really look up to and admire – they are generous and kind and fierce and ready to back her up no matter what. Alix’s friends are her own little echo chamber of White Feminism – yes, even though one of her closest friends is a Black woman – and help her rationalize and justify her behavior, even at its most abhorrent.
I also loved the plot. Reid’s sharp social observations. Her ability to raise deeply disturbing social issues in a matter-of-fact way that makes them all the more upsetting. Her tenderness for Emira and Briar and Emira’s friends. Truly, so much to love about this book.
What I Didn’t Like About This Book: When I think about this book in terms of dislikes, I find I have many… but then I go to write them down and it turns out they are simply things I dislike about Alix (her smug judgmentalism of her new neighbors) … or her behavior (how she treats Briar)… or about injustices that are baked into our society (how Peter suffers zero consequences for his “faux pas”). And the fact that these are my takeaways just proves again how skillful Reid is as a writer in mirroring the world we live in and exposing its dirty underbelly.
Should You Read This Book? Absolutely. It is searing social criticism, yes, and it’s also a hell of a good book. Easy to read, well-written, fast-paced, surprising at times, and extremely thought provoking. I loved it and I bet you’ll love it too.