Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other. With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone "family," the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
The book's plot also hinges on a pretty serious coincidence that I found hard to accept in a city as large as Philadelphia...so I had some suspension of disbelief problems.
As an aside, to me the most interesting topic in this novel is barely considered, which is the benign neglect of children, what it means, who is judged for it.
This is a novel forged out of our current moment and all credit to Reid for being willing to march into the middle of some charged issues. Reid takes the reader directly into the middle of uncomfortable scenes and lingers there, allowing things to be as awkward as possible. This is a soap opera of a book, full of unlikely coincidences, technicolor emotions and explosive secrets. Reid's approach certainly makes for a page-turner, but some of the impact of what she is saying is lost in the sheer drama of it all. For all that this approach didn't resonate with me, I'm rooting for this one to be widely read. A novel that manages to directly address racism and it's various iterations while also being fast paced and fun to read is a needed thing right now.
Emira is a 25 year old Black woman who, like many others her age, is trying to find her way in the world. She's done with college, but doesn't have a chosen career path and ends ups babysitting for a wealthy white family. Alix, the mother, is going through her own crisis, trying to develop her career, having two small children, and recently leaving her beloved NYC for Philadelphia. The other main character is Kelley, a white man who begins dating Emira and who we later find out dated Alix in high school.
Right at the beginning, racism is highlighted when Emira takes her 3 year old babysitting charge to a fancy grocery store late at night (this is at Alix's behest for reasons I won't get in to). She gets accused by a white woman shopper of possibly kidnapping this white 3 year old child. It's caught on video by Kelley, who she doesn't yet know.
So this event is obvious racism, but more insidious is the underlying racism of Alix as she gets to know Emira. This was a hard look at how wealthy, white, "woke", women sometimes still harbor deep-seated racist attitudes without realizing it and even while thinking they are being "un-racist".
Also present is a look at female friendships. Alix has her group of 4 "best friends" as does Emira. The contrast and similarities between how these friend groups work was also interesting to me.
Overall, I think this is a good "book club discussion" book. It would appeal to a wide variety of readers because it is a page turner, is easy to read, and can be read on the surface, but there is also plenty to think about underneath the main plot line. I found it annoyingly modern at times, and a little unfocused, but I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to keep up with talked about books.
Original publication date: 2020
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 310 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/where I acquired the book: kindle library
Why I read this: the buzz
A few days later Emira runs into Kelley, they have dinner, and their relationship quickly deepens. Meanwhile Alix Chamberlain, Briar’s mother, is mortified by how Emira was treated and takes it upon herself to become Emira’s friend, crossing all sorts of employer/employee boundaries. These characters provide a platform to explore issues of race and class through a story that is both complex and believable.
Debut author Kiley Reid masterfully portrays different types of “woke” white people who want so badly not to be racist, and don’t realize the myriad of tiny ways they mistreat or marginalize the black people they interact with. I found this book very thought-provoking, with much that could be unpacked in a discussion group.
I read this quickly and the premise/themes are fantastic. The execution...through these characters, to me, fell a bit short. Though this read will stick with me awhile, like others, my reactions and feelings about it are complicated.
Both of the two main characters seemed....emotionally needy, immature and socially stunted. While on the surface in and in their circumstances, Alix and Emira are presented as opposites, underneath they appear to be mirrors of each other.
Both have long-time, solid girlfriends who have life goals they're working towards and seem rudderless left behind in comparison.
Both lack a deep sense of self or guiding values and constantly look to others to imprint on them how they should think, feel, act, choose.
Neither is particularly interested in doing the hard work of the job/career paths they've chosen (Alix - writing a book she's under contract for; Elmira - nannying), but both want the money, trappings, and identity that comes from those jobs.
Alix is positioned as not very interested or understanding of her toddler daughter, but that thread is dangled without being woven in. It seems less neglect than her being a working mother. She seems involved if sometimes distracted and not fully attentive.
Alix definitely sees herself as white savior to Elmira and is more attentive (to the point of obsession) to her than her actual children. Yet, for her part, Elmira sees herself as black savior to this over-privileged/under-loved white child and thinks of herself as a better mother to this child than her actual mother. Yet, while she's a babysitter who spends someone else's money to play with and entertain this child, she can barely provide for herself. She's not even close to understanding or being ready for the sacrifices asked of mothers every day. She's positioned as the only one to love this child, but the book doesn't pay that off in any authentic or meaningful way.
The child herself that's at the center of the story is...a fairly normal 2-3 YO, although you're meant to think she's somehow atypical for her age.
The questions/issues the book raises around childrearing and spousal/partner roles are almost incidental to the story, not because of it. The characters aren't fully developed. They're weak and honestly, sort of caricatures, but the premise and themes are interesting enough to propel this story forward and despite its flaws, this is worth reading
I definitely want to see this book come alive on-screen because a nuanced portrayal is what this story needs to come fully into its potential.
Things I found interesting: parent-child-child care worker relationships. The mom is very much a mom but she's also rich and busy and has a new baby and doesn't realize she's neglecting her precocious and eccentric three-year-old (who bonds deeply with the babysitter). The vacuousness of the celebrity that makes the employer wealthy. The mixture of charm and obnoxiousness that is so frequently part of male white self-aggrandizing wokeness. The power and limits of female friendships. The fact everyone is so sure they know exactly what the babysitter should be doing with her life when really she just wants time to figure it out for herself - though it puts her on the constant edge of financial disaster and makes her feel unfairly ashamed of herself. The role viral social media plays in lives as a kind of spectator team sport.
I'm happy to have novels that are fun to read and yet help unpack everyday racism in such an accessible way. I know some reviewers say "I didn't like the characters" but I liked the way the author gave all of them such a rich mix of being like folks we know who have some endearing qualities and mostly good intentions while also being deeply clueless and selfish. Like we are.
The story turns on an incident of racial profiling that seems all to prevalent in contemporary America. Emira is accosted by a rent-a-cop in an upscale grocery store while babysitting for Alix’s daughter, Briar. After all, a young black woman with a white child in a trendy store can’t be up to anything good—right? Like all such incidents, the altercation is recorded by a passerby on his phone. In this instance the phone belongs to Kelley Copeland, a guy who will later enter an amorous relationship with Emira. To her credit, Reid doesn’t just dwell on racial profiling in her novel. Instead, she deftly explores multiple contemporary themes, like implicit racial bias, social media, class, friendship, and motherhood.
In lieu of preaching, Ried gently satirizes the wokeness that seems prevalent in contemporary America. Alix is a striver whose career success seems to rest on the thinnest of threads. She is totally self-involved yet sees herself as racially enlightened. Following the racial profiling incident, she begins to fixate on getting to know Emira and showing her just how woke she really is. Kelley Copeland is likewise lacking in self-awareness. Most of his friends are black and he thinks this qualifies him to tell Emira how to lead her life. He talks at her but doesn’t listen much. Ried gives Alix and Kelley a most improbable past connection that leaves each convinced the other is a racist. This leaves each with conflicting views about what is best for Emira.
Ried’s most engaging narrative twists and turns around the profiling video, an embarrassing Thanksgiving dinner, high school hijinks, failings in child rearing and lots more. Ultimately, she holds a mirror up to our faces to gently demonstrate some of the subtleties of contemporary American racism.
Emira is a twenty-five-year-old college graduate who, for one reason or another, hasn't quite figured out her career plans and so she works a couple of jobs to get by. One night she babysits Briar, wealthy and white Alix's daughter, and then gets confronted by a security guard at a supermarket, accusing her of kidnapping the white child. That sets the stage for the rest of this novel, which twists around in ways I never expected. Alix and her husband are horrified and repeatedly awkwardly apologize to Emira, only making things worse. Throw in the guy who witnessed and videoed the exchange at the store, and although Emira wants to forget it, none of the white people involved will let her.
This book has a good premise. I did enjoy it. Briar, the toddler with a growly voice, was delightful. But the social issues, as important as they are, sometimes got lost in the chick-lit feel. Not being much of a chick-lit kind of person, I didn't enjoy this as much as I expected. On the other hand, I'm not sorry I spent time listening to it.
The aftermath of the security guard's accusation is... not what I expected. Rather than an immediate blow up, Emira takes steps to make sure the video doesn't get out, and she wants to keep quiet about it. We get Alix Chamberlain's past and point of view, wanting to cozy up to Emira and make friends, as well as Emira's struggle to figure out what she wants to do with her life. At some point, I got frustrated with just about every character except poor Briar, and it was a sudden shock at one point to realize that only one or two characters, at most, were older than me (I wondered if that was some of the source of frustration). We see ways in which the white characters are well-meaning but totally blind to their own racism, and rewrite their own histories to make themselves look better. All this wrapped up in an easy narrative that kept pages turning fast.
A slow build but once I got into it it was like a time bomb ready to go off.
The Rest of It:
For once, I read a buzzy book when everyone else was reading it too. Such a Fun Age is making the rounds and getting a lot of praise. It was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club and although I’ve not read all of her selections, the ones I have read have been really good. This was no exception.
Emira is at a club celebrating with her friends when her boss calls her to ask if she can possibly watch her daughter due to an emergency. One, it’s late. Two, she’s dressed for the club. Three, she’s been drinking. Although she explains this to her boss, the desperation on the other line wins out.
Minutes later, Emira finds herself with three-year-old Briar in an upscale supermarket checking out the nuts, dancing in the aisle, doing whatever it takes to keep the kid occupied while her mother, Alix, tends to her emergency. Just minutes into their visit, they begin to draw the attention of other shoppers. Emira, a young black woman, and Briar, a young white child, wandering the aisles so late at night seems out of place. So much so, that a security guard begins to question her. Emira explains that she is Briar’s babysitter, which is the truth but she knows how it looks. Things escalate. That is where the story begins.
This is one of those slow-build books. Conflict is everywhere but you know something big is coming and as the story plays out, the one word that comes to mind is EXPLOSIVE. This is a book about race but also fetishsizing race, which I thought was interesting.
Two things stood out for me. One, the story is a little gritty. Not overworked or polished which I liked very much. The author did a good job of portraying each character’s POV. None of these characters are perfect and you won’t find yourself siding with any of them. They all play a role in how the rabbit falls down the hole. Two, the portrayal of Briar, the young child seemed a little off. She’s critical to the story but her observations were often not believable to me and they took me out of the narrative at times.
However, there is a lot to think about here and you will find yourself eagerly flipping those pages towards the end because it’s like a train wreck and you can’t possibly look away. I wouldn’t say it was a perfect story but I don’t think it was meant to be.
For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter.
Alix Chamberlain is a mom and blogger who has become somewhat of a social media darling and her own brand. She is a privileged white woman who always gets what she wants and has made this her business model.
Emira is the young black babysitter for the Chamberlains. Working two jobs, she is trying to make rent, keep up with her health insurance, and decide what exactly she wants to do with her life.
While minding Briar one night, Emira is confronted by another shopper and security guard in the Chamberlain's upscale neighbourhood supermarket—she is accused of kidnapping the toddler. A crowd gathers to watch the events unfold, and a bystander captures everything on his phone. Emira is left shaken, humiliated and determined to put the incident behind her whereas Alix makes it her mission to right the situation.
When the video unearths someone from Alix's past, the women end up on a crash course that will topple their delicate relationship and undo them both.
What could easily be mistaken as a light and breezy beach read is quickly squashed—this rich and captivating narrative has many layers and subtle nuances. Such a Fun Age is an explosive debut with a comment on racism, classism, and transactional relationships.
Reid's character development is nothing short of amazing. Both Alix and Kelley perceive that they are protecting Emira and saving her, but what they don't realize is the huge disconnect they have from her real life. They think that they are the hero whereas the other is the villain. Alix and Kelley also can't seem to see the bigger picture—even though they are well meaning, they are part of the problem. And can we just talk about Briar for a moment? She is precocious but there is an innate sadness about her, she can sense that she is not important to her mother but has no way of articulating her feelings. Reid gives voice to this by creating an anxious, serious child that flourishes under Emira's care. The exchanges between Emira and Briar are some of the best writing in the book.
Alix's feelings towards Amira force a relationship that is not only inappropriate as her employer, but borders on being unhealthy. I think that Alix is a bit unhinged, perhaps this is a result of her micro-celebrity status, therefore she tries to control those around her, especially through her need to help. This is a case of where well-intentioned white people try to save black people and instead, make the situation more difficult.
Can I just tell you how outstanding the audiobook version is? Nicole Lewis is incredibly talented. I highly recommend this five star book.
We mainly see events unfold from the POVs of Emira and Alix, but both are supported by some excellent minor characters, especially Emira's friend Zara and Emira's charge, three-year-old Briar. Alix also has a strong friendship group of her own, which makes her attempts to get friendly with Emira even more interesting.
That's all I'll say before I reveal any more plot! Such A Fun Age is every bit as good as the rave reviews say - compulsively readable with complex, flawed characters who attempt to navigate race, privilege and power with what they think are the best of intentions.
Having graduated college with no clear idea of what she wants to do with her life, twenty-five year old Emira Tucker has since taken on a series of part time jobs, her favourite of which is babysitting Briar Chamberlain. Briar is a precocious three year old, and a little too tiring for her career focused mother, Alix, to handle while trying to build her ‘brand’ and also care for a newborn. Alix, and her husband, TV anchorman Peter, are vaguely grateful for the care Emira provides, and both are horrified when late one night they call on Emira for help and the young woman is detained by an over-reaching security guard at a local store who believes she may have kidnapped Briar, not only because Emira is dressed for the party she was attending when the Chamberlain’s called, but because Emira is black, and Briar is white.
While underscoring the major themes of race, class, and privilege, this incident is not actually the focus of the novel, but it is a catalyst for change in the relationship between Alix and Emira. Feeling vaguely guilty about the incident, and worried that Emira will leave their employ, Alix becomes fixated on befriending her. Emira would prefer to forget the whole thing, she has other things on her mind, like her lack of career, and a new beau, Kelley Copeland, whom she met the night of the confrontation in the store.
While low key conflict related to race and class simmers in the background, Reid doesn’t pit the white and black/ rich and poor characters against each other, instead she thoughtfully explores the varying experiences, understandings, and motives that affect their viewpoints about themselves and each other. As the story unfolds from the perspectives of the two women, Reid also examines additional themes such as identity, motherhood, friendship, and career.
Not being American I can’t pretend to understand the cultural dynamics which underpin Such A Fun Age, but I did find it well written, nuanced and thought provoking.
The story centers around Emira, a 26-year old black women who is trying to figure out what to do with her life. She is a part-time babysitter for a well-off white couple, Alix and Pete, who have two little girls, a lovely toddler named Briar and baby Catherine. Alix is an influencer who has built her brand/reputation on reviewing products and inspiring young women. The story spins out when Emira is asked to take Briar out of the house late one night due to a domestic issue. They go to a neighborhood grocery store where a white security office officer and customer mistakenly confront her and assume she has taken a white child. The incident is caught on video by a white man named Kelley, and this encounter provides some of the backdrop for the rest of the story.
What a fascinating set of relationships this book provides! Both Emira and Alix have a group of supportive female friends that are enjoyable to read about. The employer-employee relationship between Alix and Emira becomes weirdly awful and always compelling. Emira and Kelley begin talking and then dating after the grocery store incident, and their relationship is intriguing and well written. My favorite part of the book was the warm and loving relationship between Emira and little Briar, a beautifully described toddler who is funny and perceptive and elevated as an important part of this story – it’s a very moving depiction.
This is great novel on many levels – it includes multiple themes such as families and parenting, the importance of friendships, issues of class and racism, coming-of-age stories, societal pressures and consumerism, and more. It also has an interesting plot twist! Overall, “Such a Fun Age” is a pleasure to read.
Emira needs the money, so she leaves the party and picks up Briar and takes her to the fancy neighborhood grocery store that's open late. Emira is dressed for a party, and when she and Briar got to the grocery store, Emira's friend is along too, and the three of them have a dance party in the frozen food aisle.
Another customer, a white woman, smiles at them, but soon the store security guard comes over and asks Emira why she is with this child this late at night. The woman decided that Emira may have kidnapped Briar and notified the security guard.
Emira calmly tries to explain that she is the babysitter, but when the security guard accuses her of kidnapping, another man in the grocery store takes out his phone and films the altercation. Emira is embarrassed and angry, and she calls Mr. Chamberlain, who comes to the store to straighten it all out.
The opening scene plays out like so many stories we have seen on the news in the past year, and from there we get a deep dive into Emira's life and the life of Alix, a mommy blogger who gave up her friends and job in New York City to follow her husband's career as a TV news reporter to Philadelphia.
Reid draws us into the lives of these two women as they intersect. Emira is a college graduate who can't find a job that pays enough, so she babysits for Briar. She adores the curious little girl, and feels that Alix pays more attention to her new baby because she cannot understand her own toddler.
After the grocery store incident, Alix wants to make things right for Emira, get to know her better, make her part of the family, but she doesn't know how to go about that. Their two lives couldn't be any different- Alix a white woman of privilege, Emira a young black woman, working as a babysitter without health insurance, a 401K, or vacation pay.
Things culminate on Thanksgiving when Alix invites Emira and her new boyfriend, the man who took the video, to dinner. All hell breaks loose when Alix realizes who he really is.
Reid writes an engrossing story about race, class, friendship and privilege. She puts you into the shoes of Emira and Alix, and often times it is an uncomfortable fit. I cringed at some of the things Alix said and did, and it does make the reader become more introspective of one's own behavior. You also get to see how stressful it is living moment-to-moment, paycheck-to-paycheck. Not everyone is benefitting from the record-breaking stock market bull run.
If you like a novel that will make you think inside of a fascinating plot, I recommend Such a Fun Age. Reese Witherspoon recently chose it for her Hello Sunshine book club.
If you read Stephanie Land's nonfiction book, Maid, give Such a Fun Age a read.
The cursing was excessive (mostly J/JC). When the author used JFC, as a Christian reader, that did it for me. I did not finish the book.