Wednesday 13 January 2021

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book from the publisher to take part in a readalong with Tandem Collective. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid - 4/5
When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for 'kidnapping' the white child she's actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix's desire to help. When a surprising connection emerges between the two women, it sends them on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know - about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege.

This book is an interesting one. I've seen so much hype surrounding it and I didn't really know what to expect. I enjoyed it but I thought I would like it more than I did.

The book is split into four parts and short chapters mean that it is easy to fly through.

Such A Fun Age starts with babysitter Emira at her friend Shaunie's birthday party with her other friends Josefa and Zara. She receives a call from her employer Mrs Chamberlain (Alix) asking if Emira could take her daughter Briar to the grocery store as they have had an incident with one of their windows being smashed and she doesn't want Briar to see the police.

Emira agrees but states that as she has been out at a party, she doesn't look very professional and Mrs Chamberlain is fine with that. Whilst at the grocery store, Emira gets accosted by the security guard, assuming that she has kidnapped Briar. A man named Kelley Copeland has recorded the altercation but Emira doesn't want it to be shown anywhere and wants to forget about it.

This story has a lot of depth with the characters given good backgrounds. Alix Chamberlain is a blogger who is writing her own book. Her husband is a news anchor who accidentally says something racist on TV and this instantly changes Alix's approach to Emira. She becomes strangely obsessed with trying to please her. She very much wants Emira to know that she reads books by black authors and has black friends, like she is keeping up appearances.

Emira also starts a relationship with Kelley Copeland and we realise that he and Alix knew each other from high school. Alix gets very obsessed with trying to protect her from him because she "knows what he's like" whilst at the same time Kelley is negative about Emira working for Alix.

It touches on race, privilege and female relationships and I do think it's one worth giving a go. As well as having these serious topics running throughout, it did make me laugh out loud in places.

Discussion Points:
1) "Emira," he said. "Don't tell me she makes you wear a uniform."
"Well, she doesn't make me do anything."
What does the novel have to say about the transactional nature of domestic work? Why do you think Emira and Kelley disagree on the significance of the polo shirt?

It is touched on throughout the entire book that Emira is "just" or "still" a babysitter. It is seen as something you do when you are a teenager and here Emira is, at age 25, babysitting.

Emira sees the wearing of the polo shirt as something that just happened and it continued on because it was easy. Kelley, knowing Alix from years ago, instantly remembers about the black member of staff that Alix's family had and who was also made to wear a uniform. The fact that it was embroidered with the family name suggested ownership. 

2) After the revelation at the Thanksgiving dinner, Kelley wants Emira to stop working for Alix. Do you think there was a right way for Emira, Kelley and Alix to react to their discovery? Is there always a right way to respond?

I don't think that there is a "right" way to respond but it all could have been handled very differently. If, when they first realised they knew each other, either Alix or Kelley told Emira straight away about their past relationship it would have saved the sneaking around and everything blowing up.

3) Over the course of the novel, we learn about events in Alix's adolescence, including her encounter with Kelley. How does Alix's adolescence continue to shape her as an adult? Why do you think she changed the spelling of her name from Alex to Alix?

It is very obviously that what happened to Alix as a teenager shaped her entire life, especially the incident with Robbie. She didn't realise her white privilege and I think she is now trying her best to clear her name and show that she isn't racist in the slightest but it kind of went too far. I believe she changed the spelling of her name to sound less white.

4) Much of the plot is facilitated by technology and the hyper-connected nature of modern society: Emira's encounter at the supermarket was filmed and could be shared, and Alix is able to leave New York and work remotely. Discuss the effect of modern technology in the novel. Does it cause more problems that it solves?

Technology can be both a good and bad thing. Emira was admirable in the way that she steered clear of social media and the whole reason that she was recognised following the video release was because an image was shared of her on Instagram.

Alix was able to share photographs of her week in New York after she went back home and thus making her agent believe that she was still currently in New York. It is easy to lie and make your life look different to what it truly is.

5) How does Shaunie's new job effect Emira's concerns about her own career? Do you think it is fair to say that Emira suffers from a lack of ambition? What other factors are holding her back?

I think Emira sees her friends around her having great jobs with dental and health insurance and feels like she is behind them. We hear about this when she discussed the places that each woman chooses to frequent for their birthdays. I don't think that she suffers with a lack of ambition but I do think that she doesn't know where to go from here and what she is truly capable of. The biggest thing holding her back is the thought of leaving Briar.

6) Emira continues to work for the Chamberlains through difficult circumstances, largely because of her attachment to Briar. How does their relationship compare to Alix's relationship with Briar? Why do you think Briar means so much to Emira?

It is obvious that Briar trusts Emira a lot, telling her that she doesn't like when her baby sister Catherine is the favourite. At the young age of 3 she recognises that her mother spends a lot more time with Catherine and that makes Emira want to show Briar just how special she is. I think Emira is worried that Briar will turn out to be exactly like Alix.

7) Towards the end of the novel, Alix tells Emira: "We're so impressed with how you reacted that evening, and so grateful that you came into our lives". How does this square with Alix's treatment of Emira? What, if anything, have Alix and Emira learned from each other?

I thought that it was a bit condescending of Alix to think that Emira couldn't handle herself well in a stressful situation. It really showed a huge shift in Alix's perception of Emira such as being surprised that the knew the word "connoisseur".

8) 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'. Discuss this proverb in light of Alix's decision to share the video. Can her good intentions excuse the damage done? Do you believe her intentions really were good?

I don't think that Alix's intentions were good at all. She shared the video for a number of reasons; for Emira to think that it was Kelley who had done so, to make her husband look better, for her husband's new channel to break the story and have the first interview with Emira and to promote her upcoming book. She was just selfish.

9) White privilege is a recurrent theme in the novel, especially where it goes unrecognised. Do you think fiction is a useful medium for raising awareness of this issue? In what ways might fiction be more successful than non-fiction at starting these conversations?

I definitely think it's great to read fiction books on the topic too. It puts you into the situation and puts you in a very real scenario.

10) Such A Fun Age tackles very serious themes, and throws its characters into some incredibly stressful moral dilemmas. In light of this, what do you make of the word 'fun' in the title?

I took it to be tongue in cheek and a bit sarcastic. It is not fun at all!

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