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.

Book review: If I Could Say Goodbye

As always, many thanks to Net Galley and Hachette UK for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. If I Could Say Goodbye is available for pre order via Waterstones and Amazon.

Synopsis from Goodreads

A heart-warming and uplifting story about love, loss and finding the strength to say goodbye, from the author of The First Time I Saw You.

Jennifer Jones’ life began when her little sister, Kerry, was born. So when her sister dies in a tragic accident, nothing seems to make sense any more.

Despite the support of her husband, Ed, and their wonderful children, Jen can’t comprehend why she is still here, while bright, spirited Kerry is not.

When Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of Kerry, she doesn’t realise that the closer she feels to Kerry, the further she gets from her family.

Jen was never able to say goodbye to her sister. But what if she could?

Would you risk everything if you had the chance to say goodbye?

Publication date: September 17, 2020

Genres: Fiction, modern/contemporary

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Jennifer Jones was always a faithful, older sister to Kerry. However, when Kerry dies in a sudden accident, her whole world turns upside down. Despite having the support of her devoted husband, Edward, and her two children, Jennifer struggles to come to terms with the sudden loss of her sister. She turns her grief inwards, blaming herself for Kerry’s death and wishing the accident had taken her life, instead of her sister’s.

If I Could Say Goodbye, is an honest portrayal of the many facets of grief and it’s reverberating impact on one family. It explores grief openly and honestly, and for that alone it deserves praise. Jennifer becomes so consumed by the memories of her sister, that her mind convinces her she is still there. Kerry is reborn in her imagination and experience of grief as she loses herself in memories of the past.

Grief is something we all experience at some points in our lives, but obviously in many different ways. Emma Cooper manages to explore how Kerry’s death takes a drastic toll on Jennifer’s mental health, from her feelings of guilt, responsibility and regret that follow in the wake of Kerry’s death. Jen finds herself talking to her sister more than her own family. This experience of Kerry being somewhat alive in her imagination, serves as a comfort to Jen in some ways, but ultimately, she realises the need to say goodbye is what will set her free.

“I turn my back on the sea and the cliff, on the grief and guilt that I’ve been drowning in, and break into a run: my life is about to begin again.”

This is a refreshing and realistic portrayal of grief told through Jennifer and her husband, Edward. In having this alternative perspective, Cooper conveys how grief can have a snowballing affect on the ones we love. Ed has to pick up the pieces of their life together, as he struggles to maintain their relationship and family. Jennifer’s family and her children become more distant as her experience of grief consumes her in more ways than one. Intertwined within this exploration of grief is a tale of love, friendship, relationships and family.

Although I thought this was an excellent representation of experiencing the loss of a loved one, I found the book itself hard to read. There was no real structure, which I guess could be part of the point, in being like grief itself, however, it made the reading experience more difficult than it needed to be. Although I engaged with the leading characters, Jen and Ed, I felt it didn’t have a ‘hook’ to keep me reading.

The writing is beautiful and very well structured, which allows for the impact of grief to be explored through many angles, however, the lack of structure and plot is what let it down for me.

For someone who has recently gone through the death of a loved one, this book was harrowing and hard to read in places, but nonetheless essential for its honest depiction of grief and loss. It was comforting in this respect and something I would recommend to others.

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Book review: The Sacrifice

I have been pretty quiet this week due to multiple reasons. However, I’m back with another book review! Please note, The Sacrifice was kindly sent to me in an exchange for an honest review. I’ve never done a review of a short story collection so we’ll see how it goes!

Genres: Short story, fiction

Source: Free e-book

My rating: ★★★

Synopsis

The Sacrifice is a collection of short stories, written by Indrajit Garai, author of The Bridge of Little Jeremy. There are three stories in the collection, which all feature the exploration of human sacrifice and the strong bonds that hold family relationships together.

The Move, the first story in the collection, is about a dairy farmer in rural France who struggles to keep his business alive. Guillaume faces the real prospect of financial ruin as he tries to protect his son, eventually giving up everything to keep him safe.

The Listener, is a story told through the perspective of a young boy, Matthew, who tries to save his favourite tree from being chopped down. The tree is a source of comfort for the boy, in a time in his life where his home life is unstable, as his Mother begins a relationship with a new partner,

The final story is The Sacrifice, the tale of a struggling author who lives with his Grandson, Arthur. Francois has been struggling to make it as an author his whole life. As he begins a battle with rival publishers, he faces the real prospect of financial ruin. Often starving himself so that his Grandson can eat, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to keep Arthur safe.

The Review

The shining element in this collection was the sense of unity created between the three stories. Each story was very different in its feel and plot, however, they were all connected by a common theme – which is essential (in my opinion) for any short story collection.

All stories were united by the idea of human sacrifice, explored through various complex family relationships. Despite the suffering and darkness that is at the heart of all stories, there is always a sense of hope. I was left with the same feeling I got when I finished The Bridge of Little Jeremy and it is what Garai does best; despite everything, the darkness is always countered with a sense of hope, even against the worst circumstances.

“He saw, no matter how harsh his struggle for survival had become, there were still rewards of living on this earth.”

The Sacrifice, 148.

The exploration of human suffering and relationships across all stories makes the collection feel incredibly raw and real. It strikes at the most difficult elements that life can bring, but also maintains a sense of hope. As always by Garai, the writing is beautiful and I can quite easily get lost in the prose.

From reading The Bridge of Little Jeremy, I gather Garai likes to write about troubled characters, which features heavily in all these stories. Each character is facing some kind of hardship and strives to put it right. Garai also likes to explore the child persona which features in The Listener, as Matthew tries to do everything in his power to save a tree from being chopped down. But it isn’t just any tree, as it becomes his source of comfort in a time where he is experiencing anxiety and upheaval.

My favourite story in the collection was definitely The Sacrifice. Francois strive to make it as a writer and do everything to try and keep his Grandson thriving, and his story pays homage to the extent of human perseverance and struggle. For me, it was the most gripping as it had a sense of pace that the others lacked. I desperately wanted Francois to make it as a published author and receive the life he and his Grandson deserved, one free of the anxieties of financial hardship.

Despite the beauty of the writing, I struggled with The Move and The Listener, the first two stories in the collection. They both lacked a hook and reading them was a bit slow-going, as there was little drive and suspense to keep me reading. The Move redeemed itself slightly in the dramatic ending, however this was the only part that intrigued me. In this respect, I feel the first two stories were weaker than the last. They felt heavy and dense, with a definitive lack of direction.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this collection and really felt that all stories connected to each other. The language is beautiful and a joy to read but I felt the first two stories were a bit draining. However, I thoroughly enjoyed The Sacrifice, the last story, and think this is where the collection really excels. Definitely worth a read!

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Poetry Review: In the Dark, Soft Earth

Firstly, I am very grateful to Plum White Press for sending me an advanced copy of this collection, however, this does not influence my review in any way. 


Frank Watson is an American poet who has written collections including; The Dollhouse Mirror, Seas to Mulberries and One Hundred Leaves. In the Dark, Soft Earth, is his latest work, due to be published in July 2020, it describes itself as the, “poetry of love, nature, spirituality, and dreams.” You can pre-order the collection on Amazon.

The Review

Title: In the Dark, Soft Earth

Poet: Frank Watson

My rating: ★★★★

In the Dark, Soft Earth captivates the essence of human experience with the forces of nature, intense romantic relationships and draws on a sense of shared history. The prose is beautifully captivating, honest, and full of images which will light up your soul. In a way, it takes the reader on a journey of what it is to be human, through the surges of different emotional experiences tied in with nature. 

I found the collection had a significant element of flow in the way each poem bleed into the next. Some poems were more short and snappy and at first appeared to be more devoid of meaning, but viewed collectively, they had a shared meaning. This gives the collection an element of motion which I really loved, as there was something so hypnotic and dreamy about it. 

For me, despite each poem having a different feel, the collection is united by a common theme that explores the idea that our human experience and emotions are universal. Poems such as ‘shores of millennia’ illustrate this, in pointing to the idea that our feelings and thoughts have been lived before, and in this, this is how we are connected to our past,

“these rocks

of a million years

and all the fleeting life

that’s graced their shores…”

shores of millennia

The idea that love is a timeless human emotion is explored captivatingly in this collection, with drawing upon images of the history of the earth. When we walk, when we love and when we explore the earth – we are doing something with an ancient history. I loved this image and feeling that Watson conveys and its sense of grounding of the human experience is unique and wonderfully demonstrated.

Photo by Kenneth Carpina on Pexels.com

In ‘continents’ we really get the exploration of this theme and how nature, love and history are all tied together. The feeling of love is likened to a, “sensual sea” which has the ability to carry, “across the continents” and, “into centuries, / of cracked earth / with stories told..”. I love the beauty of this image and the sense of timelessness from it – it again, points to the idea that human experience is historic.

The theme of nature is as persistent as love itself, as a reader you really get the sense that Watson is enthralled by it. Nature is the driving force behind his portrayal of love and the ‘soft’ element of earth. In making such a connection between love, nature and human experience, it feels like Watson implies that nature itself can be a carrier of emotions – and this is such a lovely sentiment. I think partly, nature is so heavily drawn upon as it makes readers re-consider their perceptions and connections to the world.

Aside from the interconnectedness of themes drawn upon in this collection, the writing itself pays homage to the sense of effortlessness in which we can all feel and have the capacity for love. The flow is beautiful, crafted with a simplicity of language and littered with complex images. Some poems are almost lyrical and roll of the tongue which makes the collection entirely digestible. Watson uses little punctuation in many of his poems which creates a kind of breathlessness  – perhaps mirroring the intensity of human emotions.

I found the reading experience itself to be incredibly addictive, soothing in parts, but also cutting in places – especially towards the end which features the darker elements of human experience. It feels as though the collection is meant to get increasingly darker as you read on, to demonstrate the cycle of life and renew an appreciation of the ‘soft’ parts of the earth. 

I really enjoyed the collection as a whole and felt touched by the portrayal of love being intertwined with the forces of nature. However, I struggled with the end in getting to grips with some of the images about death and religion – I understand it had to end on this to convey ‘the life cycle’ theme, but I felt this part was disconnected to the rest. The heavy, religious images didn’t seem to match up with the delicacy of imagery used for the majority of the collection. 

Image: Pieter Bruegel, Tower of Babel, 1563

Also, this part increasingly uses historic works of art and religious pieces including the “Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel and “The World” by Bonifacio Bembo. Although these point to the element of shared, historical experience, I didn’t think they added to the collection. For me, reading poetry is an individual experience about creating your own images from interpreting the language. In providing images, I found it took away from this. However, this said, perhaps this is more of a personal preference. 

All in all, I enjoyed reading this collection. I found the way Watson captured the human experience enlightening and beautiful, and the images of nature really resonated with me. The language is simple, but the images are complex and enduring. It is a celebration of life itself and everything in between. The simplicity of language and limited use of punctuation enabled a certain rawness to be conveyed – which I liked. For me, this is important, as poetry has to be honest and accessible, so it can reach people and touch them in various ways. 

In a time of great turbulence, anxiety, and concern, this collection restored my faith in humanity and our capacity to appreciate the world. It will soothe your soul and carry you to other places. Its breathless sense of urgency will charge your present with the instinctive human necessity to love, be grounded to the past, and have an abundant appreciation for nature. 

Beautiful to read: a timeless assessment of what it means to be a human in a world with an ancient past, charged with an undercurrent of urgency.

My favourite poem in the collection,

“in the garden of dreams

a little orchid bathes

unseen in the rain

violets

in the midnight scent –

stars in her eyes

a wall within

a wall where all

the secrets grow

in a world of fragments

we piece it together

in the walls we make

gardens

Thanks again to Plum White Press for sending me a copy!

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as we implode

we’re a whole season apart

missed sunsets and falling leaves.

next time the trees will be stark

and autumn’s mark

left

into the dark.

I can see fireworks through my little window

big, bright bold

sparks of colour unfold

into the night

Watch as they erupt,

Booming, all consuming.

We are the sky you and I

We illume

Catch us, go on

Try as we subsume.

the season takes hold.

make room,

as the sky unfolds

I am reminded of the line between us

unrelenting; never growing old.

because between us we are missing a whole season

it took you and left me

and us,

to dust.