In my short time reading over the past 18 months, there are few books that I have read, if any, that turn out to be something entirely different to what I expected from it. Such A Fun Age falls into that category.
25 year old, cash-strapped Emira is making ends meet by babysitting 3 year old Briar for high-profile blogger and writer, Alix Chamberlain. Called for a babysitting emergency one evening, Emira is sent to the local supermarket where she is stopped and accused of kidnapping Briar due to being an African-American woman, all of which is caught on camera by bystander, Kelley who later asks Emira out. Feeling guilty for Emira’s experience, Alix resolves to get to know her better and invites her to Thanksgiving. When Emira turns up with Kelley in tow, the story gradually unravels when we learn that Kelley and Alix already know each other and that their history with each other dictates their treatment of Emira for their own selfish validation.
Such A Fun Age is an insightful novel with a deceptively contemporary writing style that almost distracted me from working out the subtle dynamics at play until I was two-thirds of the way through and realised it’s a story exposing the problematic mindset behind White saviourism, the fetishisation of Black people and quite brilliantly displays the paternalism they face when they enter the intimacy of a very White-centric, middle-class situation. Additionally, it uncovers the various forms saviourism can take and how it can often make things worse for minorities instead of better when their autonomy is forcibly removed by overriding their feelings and decisions to assuage the saviour’s feelings instead.
Kiley Reid exquisitely crafts the interactions between the characters with a nuance that had me re-reading some of the passages as I tried to digest what had just taken place, especially in how she unmasks the selfish interests driving saviourism. There’s no denying that it makes for uncomfortable reading but equally eye-opening to learn that saviours are often driven by selfish interests rather than a desire to be sincerely helpful by challenging the privileges the system affords them while discriminating against minorities. Essentially, the story shows how both Kelley and Alix are looking to validate their respective egos and reputations through Emira by attempting to ‘own’ her in some form, for example, the way they try to poison her mind against each other or how she’s treated like a prop for a media appearance. Quite especially, the thought processes that Reid walks us through where Emira’s privacy is repeatedly breached, such as her phone being checked without her knowledge or attempts to control and interfere in her social life, were disturbingly reminiscent of thrillers.
However, it’s not all about saviourism. There is a consistent theme of job insecurity and worry from Emira where she’s stuck in a rut unable to find a job that pays well and offers health insurance in time for her 26th birthday where she will be forced to come off her parents’ insurance. Reading these parts made me incredibly grateful for the NHS! Yet it’s also a symptom of the millennial problem – that decent jobs are scarce and job insecurity is an expected norm, rather than an exception. Of course, these issues are far more acutely punctuated for Black women. I also appreciated how sincerely Emira cares for Briar’s wellbeing – her relationship is both beautiful and eventually heartbreaking.
A nuanced, contemporary story for our times, Such A Fun Age brings together a plethora of topical issues in a mind-blowingly thought-provoking novel that’ll have you checking your own privilege and thought processes when it comes to discussions around race, class, gender and fetishisation of minorities.
- I borrowed my copy of ‘Such A Fun Age’ from BorrowBox.
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
- ISBN: 9781526612144
- Number of pages: 320