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Monday, January 27, 2020

Such a Fine Age by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Published by Putnam, ISBN9780525541905
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages

Kiley Reid's debut novel, Such a Fun Age, opens with Emira, a twenty-five year old black woman out celebrating her friend's birthday. She gets a call  at 11pm from Alix Chamberlain, the woman she works for taking care of Alix's two young children. Alix has an emergency and offers to pay Emira double and her cab fare if she can come right away and take her toddler Briar out of the house for a little while.

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 (my review here), give Such a Fun Age a read.

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