Reading: Kiley Reid
Prairie Lights — Friday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.
Such a Fun Age
By Kiley Reid — G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Kiley Reid has written a timely and compelling debut novel. The action begins when Emira Tucker, a part-time babysitter, who is black, is called in for emergency sitting services late in the evening for her white charge. They go to an upscale grocery store, and the security guard hassles Emira because she “doesn’t look like a sitter.” A bystander films the interaction on his phone.
Where the story goes from there is far from predictable or trite. The book switches perspective between Emira, who is about to age off of her parents’ health insurance but still doesn’t quite know what to do with her life, and her employer, Alix Chamberlain.
Are Alix’s desperate overtures at friendship with Emira motivated by her loneliness, having moved away from a growing career and a strong friend group in New York in order to raise a family? Or is she being performatively woke?
The actions of the white characters in this book, especially Alix, all seem to make sense in the moment, but the more I sit with the consequences the less comfortable I feel with them. That’s a good thing for a white person like myself to understand. Reid’s characters are well defined and relatable, and the world she has created feels very real, whether we are in the tony suburban home of the Chamberlains or in Emira’s shared apartment.
The story ripples back through the past, showing the reader how Alix Chamberlain came to be the person she is, helped out — or hindered — by someone from her past who has reappeared in her life. Emira is a wonderful character, who holds close to her heart the cognitive dissonance of love for the child she babysits and fear that she is falling into the trap of being “just” a babysitter.
The white characters’ motivations all seem reasonable to me, a white person. I question the choices some of the black characters make. And then I step back and ask myself, what of my own baggage am I bringing here? What do I need to learn about what motivates Emira?
Novels like this are an important part of the public conversation, and I would recommend it be on all the White Lady Bookgroup lists this year — if they’re willing to read with an open mind.
The film and television rights have also been optioned by Emmy-winning actress, producer and screenwriter Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions and Sight Unseen Pictures; a film would be sure to spark discussion among the well-meaning would-be white saviors of the world.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 276.