Book Review: Such a Fun Age

It has been a while since I’ve posted, but after spending lots of time trying to eek this out for as long as possible, I’m back with a review of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. It was the only book on the list that I liked the sound of – and it by far exceeded my expectations.

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid (2019)

Coming of Age/Fiction

Synopsis (Goodreads)

“In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.”

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that feels so close to our current moment. 

Kiley Reid provides, “a beautiful tale of how we live now” (Elizabeth Day). The story is nestled in the city of Philadelphia, and draws upon the social and racial injustices at the heart of modern, American society, through the young, black protagonist, Emria.  

The story alternates between the perspective of Emira and Alix, a white middle-class blogger. They are worlds apart but are brought together by Alix’s employment of Emira as a babysitter for her daughter, Briar. This dual perspective Reid uses allows the two polar experiences of class and race to be played off against each other, which illustrates the existence of Alix’s inherent privilege and mistreatment of Emira. 

Alix struggles to see why her treatment of Emira is problematic, despite making her wear a uniform and her history of only employing black childminders. It’s almost as if she thinks by having a black babysitter, she is doing her bit. Emira is half aware of all this, and it is her boyfriend, Kelley that exposes it more blatantly. But Emira loves looking after Briar and doesn’t want to break that bond between them. And also, the job is a lifeline, in just keeping her above the water. It takes her a while to confront these microaggressions – but the best thing of all, is that she eventually triumphs. 

The novel also looks at the influence of race in relationships. Emira meets Kelley during the incident with the police and then once again on the subway, and they hit it off immediately. But there are many differences between them, and these are explored by drawing upon their relationship,

“Emira had dated one white guy before, and repeatedly hooked up with another during the summer after college. They both loved bringing her to parties, and they told her she should try wearing her hair naturally. And suddenly, in a way they hadn’t in the first few interactions, these white men had a lot to say about government-funded housing, minimum wage, and the quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.”

Reid eloquently raises the potential fetishisation of race in relationships through the perspective of Emira and her group of friends. Emira and Kelley’s relationship is topsy turvy but explored in such a human and real way, that it’s hard not to be drawn in by it. Additionally, through their relationship Reid explores the issue of microaggressions – forms of indirect or subtle forms of racism that can often go unnoticed. There’s a performative element to the type of equality Kelley tries to portray in his social standing and worldview, that doesn’t go unrecognized by Emria,

“Like… I get it, you have a weirdly large amount of black friends, you saw Kendrick Lamar in concert, and now you have a black girlfriend…great.”

Emira

As a white, privileged person, this strikes a chord and left a profound effect on the way I perceive race, and how it influences class and relationships. It is written in a way that makes it embody the current moment. It illustrates the simmering and overt racism that exists within American society, and the small acts of unintentional racism that can go unnoticed. 

Reading this made me laugh, cringe, feel angry, and annoyed all at the same time, but one thing for sure – it touched me completely. I fell in love with Emria’s ballsy personality and sense of determination. Reid provides the reader with characters who come alive through the pages and makes you feel something, and that is the greatest gift a writer can have – I can’t believe this is a debut novel and feel excited at the prospect of Reid writing more in the future. 

This is sharp, witty, well-executed and grips you right from the start – there’s simply no messing about. I would describe it as a millennial coming of age story that combines the important, intertwining messages of class, race, privilege and how to navigate this within families and relationships.


Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

Black Lives Matter

I am writing this from the perspective of a white woman, who in recent days has become even more aware of this privilege, due to the horrific death of George Floyd – a black man who was murdered by a white police officer. Although this incident is far from an isolated one, but part of a sad, ongoing injustice that has been rife in America since their history began, the graphic footage of police brutality has caused many more people to speak up.

Granted, we should have all been speaking up and being proactively anti-racist all along, and it shouldn’t have taken the death of another black man for us to do so. Evidently, this is wrong, but it would be worse to dwell on this and not do anything. It is easy to have an excuse for not speaking out – I have had many over the years. Partly, I have been silent because I have felt I didn’t have the correct language to speak about these issues, that I don’t know enough, but also because I’m white and have previously felt that I don’t have a right to speak about racial issues. These are all ones that come from self ignorance, I can now admit. But I am trying to be better and that’s what counts. Recognizing your ignorance (and excuses) is the first step forward.

Image: LA Times

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on everything to do with race; how I understand it, how I act upon it and how I can become better at being actively anti-racist. I’m not writing this post and claiming I am perfect (I’m far from it) but I am working on it in the best way that I can. I accept that it isn’t just these few weeks that matter, but it is a lifelong effort that everyone, but particularly white people must take.

I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have one and this is enough. Something you share or post could influence just one person to think differently – but that is enough. Thus, I feel it is necessary to write this post. I deplore everybody to do everything in their capacity to be actively anti-racist; in their communities, online, in work places and in every day life. Being against racism is simply not enough – we have to do more.

Image: Gal-dem

Britain is far from perfect. Our Prime Minister has been silent on events in Minneapolis and refuses to condemn the actions taken that ended George Floyd’s life. It was only when he was criticised by the leader of the opposition, more than a week on, that he bumbled his way through addressing it. During his previous career as a journalist, he blatantly used racist, inflammatory language. This is just one example, “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” And lest not forget our monarchy has been built on systematic exploitation of other races, and the current Duke of Edinburgh (Price Philip, the Queen’s husband) has been outwardly racist his whole life.

Growing up in an almost exclusively white town

I went to schools that barely had any black, or people of colour in the classrooms – students were almost completely white as well as my teachers. During my whole compulsory education, from the age of 5-18, I was never taught about black history and the realities of British led imperialism and slavery, it was never on the curriculum. It was only when I went to university and studied history that I began to understand it. It shouldn’t have taken until this age for me to wake up to the white bias of our classroom curriculum’s, and society’s ongoing, sheer denial of British imperialism. But I fear if I hadn’t have gone to university to study history specifically, I would be far more naive. In part, there is a degree of personal responsibility here, but also, a fundamental national one.

Black history and the horror of British imperialism should be at the forefront of the history we are taught from a young age. Most fundamentally, because black history is British history. We are taught the unblemished version of events, and grow up believing it until we are challenged by it, or realise we need to challenge it ourselves. For some, this process never comes to light. Instead of memorializing the great British war efforts, achievements and sense of national pride that history curriculum’s celebrate – we should be taught the realities of Britain’s past and role in harboring racial inequality.

At university, I studied the history of America, the origins of racial discrimination, the growth of white supremacy, and how inequalities still plague the country of “freedom”. In my final year, my special subject was in “Development” which focused on how Western powers – particularly America and Britain, had exploited African countries from the nineteenth century all the way up to present day. In a way, since being at university I am far more knowledgeable from a historical point of view – however, regrettably I have failed to speak out about it. But I am recognising that. I want to be better and to educate myself even further, and I encourage everybody to do the same, if you are not already doing so.

Social media and #blm

Although I think the blackout trend on social media had good intentions, I believe it ended up silencing black voices and the important educational content that had been circulating. I noticed it was primarily being used by white people, who had not spoken out before. I feared it was being used as some form of social media bandwagon that white people could jump on to claim they had done something and been anti-racist. When many of them had perhaps not done the bare minimum which has a greater impact – like signing the George Floyd petition and donating to good causes.

Image: Variety

Social media is a good tool to spread educational content and have your voice heard – but the simple posting of a black square is not enough nor effective in my opinion. I didn’t engage in this – but instead, shared important educational resources and the links to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

Changing reading habits to elevate black voices, authors and POC

As someone who reads a lot and whose online presence is geared towards writing book reviews, I am going to make a real effort to diversify what I review.

I naturally float more towards fiction and in the past have read The Colour Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help and The Underground Railroad. But I admit this isn’t enough and is not good enough. I want to read more non-fiction about race, including Reni Eddo-Lodge’s, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. I acknowledge these are mere starting points and won’t be enough to simply diversify my reading habits, as this is a lifelong process – and one that I am going to be getting on board with starting. If anyone has any specific recommendations for books I should read, please let me know!

I have also made an effort to educate myself more with podcasts. I would recommend 1619, The New York Times podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones and About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge. I have also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and signed the George Floyd petition – but I acknowledge that these actions are not a quick fix, the struggle is life long and I will always be doing what I can to speak out and educate myself. I haven’t documented this here to gloat about what I’ve done, but to encourage my readers to do the same and point them in the right direction.

Below I’m going to post a list of resources I have found helpful over the past weeks.

Useful resources

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ELEVATING BLACK VOICES✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 I have been following the situation in the US following the tragic murder of George Floyd. It disgusts me how someone can go to the shop to pick up a few things and never return home because of prejudiced actions against the colour of their skin. I don’t want to live in a world where people lose basic empathy based on physical difference. This is a crucial time to elevate black voices speaking out about their plight. As white allies we need to LISTEN and TAKE ACTION where we can and use our privilege to shield those who aren’t as privileged. That includes donating to charities and signing petitions like the ones I’ve shown here. ➖ Another thing that we should always be doing is reading the stories of black people that come from black authors. One of my university modules was African Literature and it showed me so many amazing novels that have had a profound impact on my reading. ➖ By casually incorporating black written novels, tv shows and films into our daily media consumption we become more empathetic and create space for more people to share their stories. We should support those who already have! This also goes for movies and tv shows which I have recommended too. ➖ I also wanted to include some stories that aren’t related to black struggles by black authors because there are so many that don’t get the same attention on here. ➖ We need to read up on the injustices created by white supremacy while they are so fresh on the news, and let black people know that their lives matter to us and we won’t idly stand by while they are killed by the people who are paid to defend them . #blacklivesmatter

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I am by no means perfect. Feel free to call me out if I’ve said anything wrong, or could have phrased things differently. I am very much still learning, but as always, I am open to starting conversations and helping each other. If you have any other good resources please comment them below!

I hope this honest insight from me may have helped at least one person re-assess their actions and words. Together we must always be fighting for black voices to be given the respect they deserve. This fight is ongoing and long term, and it goes beyond the realm of posting on social media. Education is lifelong but I’m sure you’ll all be joining me in this process. Thank you for reading.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Angela Davis, author of Women, Race, and Class.