Caoilfhinn Hegarty reviews Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age and offers a suggestion for the best place to read and enjoy the novel.
What to read…
I picked up Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid over the summer, at the soon-to-close Chapters on Parnell Street. I was immediately taken in by the title. To me, it sounded like the words of an overly-enthusiastic middle-aged, middle-class woman who’s trying to coax a conversation out of you – “Oh, you still have a year left of college? Be sure to make the most of it, this is such a fun age!”
As it turned out, that voice was Alix Chamberlain, one of the book's protagonists. Alix is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and mother of two. Unfortunately for her, she’s also in a slump since her husband’s new job as a newscaster required a move from New York to Philadelphia. Feeling isolated from her circle of friends, and the fast-paced environment she had once thrived in, Alix sets her heart on cultivating a closer relationship with the only other woman she sees regularly: her daughters’ baby-sitter, Emira.
Twenty-five year old Emira is in a slump of her own, unsure of what direction she wants to go in after graduation. Her babysitting gig barely covers the bills, while her girlfriends seem to be progressing through life effortlessly. At least the kid she babysits, Blair Chamberlain, thinks she’s the best.
The plot kicks off with Emira receiving an SOS text from the Chamberlains, asking if she can do an hour or two of emergency babysitting after their house is vandalised in the middle of the night. Her plan to distract her charge by passing time in the local grocery shop backfires on her when she’s racially profiled and accused of kidnapping Blair, a white child, while she herself is an African-American.
This incident, and its subsequent emotional fallout, drastically changes the dynamic between employer and employee. As Alix attempts to grapple with the realisation that her babysitter exists in a vastly different world than her own, she doubles down on her efforts to become the younger girl’s confidante and mentor. For her part, Emira would like to forget the whole incident ever happened and focus on keeping her head above the water. Add to the mix a rogue recording of the grocery shop confrontation, and Emira’s new boyfriend who seems to know something incendiary about Alix’s past, and things soon threaten to spiral out of control.
The narrative really zeroes in on how race and social class play off each other and has some interesting things to say about the extent to which financial stability or wealth can act as a shield.
Such A Fun Age tells Emira and Alix’s stories via alternating POV chapters, which works as a great tool for constantly comparing and contrasting the disparity between their lifestyles. The narrative really zeroes in on how race and social class play off each other, and has some interesting things to say about the extent to which financial stability or wealth can act as a shield. The novel also explores the more “subtle” manifestations of racism, such as saviour complexes and fetishisation. If I had one criticism it would be a rushed ending, with the last few pages feeling really crammed. Aside from that, this is a great read with two engaging central voices and some very pertinent observations about social dynamics in modern America.
… And where to read it
Such A Fun Age is split roughly fifty-fifty between Alix and Emira’s points of view, so it seems only fair to pick out some reading nooks to suit each of their tastes.
Alix is a sophisticated, driven, career woman with spending money to spare. Her ideal reading spot would be an up-market coffee shop in the city centre, where she can soak up the bustling energy. You’d find her with a novel, her laptop, and a notebook in the AVOCA café on Suffolk Street, or in Green & Bean on the top floor of Brown Thomas. Mind you, an active woman like Alix might just opt for an audiobook while she zips around running errands.
Emira, on the other hand, gets by on minimum wage. Some cheap and cheerful spots where she could catch up with a good book include the Costa Coffee on Dawson Street, with its quiet spacious basement, or the Insomnia in the Stephen’s Green centre. Both establishments have reasonable prices, and staff members who tend to leave you be. Alternatively, she could save her pennies by curling up with a homemade cuppa in her own (shared, small, overpriced) apartment. But hey, there’s no better escapism than a book, right?