Monday, February 13, 2023

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

 A few years ago, this book was trending on Instagram, and as with most Insta-hyped books, I calmly made a note of it before moving on with my life. Because I am a book grump, and whenever a panel of people universally decide that something is awesome, I'm usually the one person in the room who hates it. I don't even do it on purpose! How frustrating is that? VERY.

But when this book went on sale on Amazon and I read the sample, I was instantly hooked. The story starts out with something a lot of us see clips of far too often on social media: a Black person being unfairly profiled and treated like a criminal for just going about their life. In this case, Emira has just come from a party with her friends to do some emergency babysitting for her consciously class mobile family that she works for, the Chamberlins. And some "well-meaning" white lady sees her with the Chamberlins's young daughter, Briar, and assumes that she is a kidnapper. Because of course.

Alix, the mother of Briar, is one of those girl boss type social media mogul moms, who is feminist in the way that sells t-shirts and gets brand deals. It's the pull-up-the-ladder-behind-me type of feminism, although she doesn't see it that way, because Alix is constantly rewriting her own narrative in a way that spins her as the tragic heroine or noble hero. When she hears about what happened to Emira in the store, it consumes her, and makes her obsessed with Emira and her Blackness with a fanaticism that's generally reserved for first crushes... or serial killers. Pretty soon she's looking at Emira's phone and eavesdropping on the conversations she has with her friends and nosing into her personal life. But much to both women's surprises, all this intervention unearths a connection that will shake both of their foundations to the very core.

On the surface, this feels like a Lianne Moriarty-like domestic drama that thrives in its own awkwardness and secondhand cringe. I could not put the book down because all of the characters were all so flawed in their own way, and I could see myself in little shards of their personalities. For example, like Emira, I was also working a job that I was overqualified for at one point, and worrying about being bumped from my heath insurance. It's SO stressful being the person in your social group with the "bad job" and having no one take you seriously as an adult. And like Alix, I've definitely worried about whether my efforts to be inclusive or supportive came across as shallow or performative. There are also a lot of dialogues about "helping" and what happens when help is unwanted, classism and infrastructural racism, girl boss and hustle culture, and how some (white) people use proximity to Black people as a means of establishing clout, coolness, or the moral high ground.

I really hope someone picks this up and turns it into a TV mini series. I think it would translate really well to the big screen. And even though I'm already anticipating and cringing over the future articles that would call this story "timely" and "important," both of those things are true. I came, I saw, and I cringed-- and I loved every moment of it. The Bookstagram gang was right about this one.

5 out of 5 stars

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