Such A Fun Read
By Doreen Munsie
A security guard accompanied by a white customer in an upscale convenience store confronts a young black woman with a white toddler. He questions her suspiciously, “Is this your child?”
The scenario that opens “Such A Fun Age,” the best-selling debut novel by Kiley Reid, could have been ripped from today’s headlines; an innocent situation arousing an erroneously suspected crime, based on the color of someone’s skin. Generating literary buzz and topping many must-read lists, this amusing satire (the movie rights have already been acquired) is not your average millennial coming-of-age story.
Wrongly accused of kidnapping, it isn’t until Emira, the babysitter, calls the father of her charge to come to the store to vouch for her that the situation is diffused. What ensues is a story layered with the complexities of society’s race and class biases. The plot unpacks the complicated relationships this young woman has with her overwrought wealthy white employer, and her overly “woke” white boyfriend.
Things happen when Emira is perceived differently and unfairly.
Emira’s boss comically and obsessively tries to befriend her. Her boyfriend is also very eager to pursue her. The author, Reid, delivers a provocative message that even a seemingly positive action done for the wrong reason is still not a good thing. Our goal should be to treat people the same way, not differently, or even better than others. Does Emira’s boyfriend pursue and date her because she’s black? A subtler prejudice, but a form of bias, nonetheless.
An attractive young woman in her 20s having the time of her life is fodder for popular bildungsromans. But this is not Emira’s life. Lacking direction and ambition, she’s professionally adrift as a part-time babysitter. Juggling two jobs, struggling to pay rent, and worried about health insurance. Add on the harm of society’s biases, and maybe it’s not so fun to grow up.
In a broader sense “Such A Fun Age” makes an ironic statement about our collective times. Race is still an issue in this country. Inequality weighs heavily as recent protests exploded with outrage and rioting. Conscious or not, there are dark societal impulses.
Reid was in fact a black babysitter for white families in her twenties. She reflects some of her experiences in the writing. The result is a thought-provoking, satirical portrayal of race and privilege. It’s entertaining, honest, and gives voice to a different perspective. And, by acknowledging that bigotry still exists beneath the surface, even among the urbane, we take a step towards addressing underlying racial assumptions — and hopefully making progress.
In an interview the author said, “I love books that make me see things in a different way. I would love for my book to do the same.” “Such A Fun Age” does just that. And, if Reid weren’t exactly who she is, we wouldn’t have such a fresh and authentic read.