Kiley Reid’s ‘Such a Fun Age’ Is a Lesson in White Privilege—Without Feeling Like One

If you didn't cringe during certain scenes, you missed the point.

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Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age is one of those books that you have to tell yourself to stop reading because it's 1 a.m. and you have to be up for work in six hours. (Just me?) Reid's buzzy debut, which happened to be both Marie Claire and Reese Witherspoon's January book club pick, is a refreshing wake-up call about white privilege—one that you don't even realize you're receiving at first. And that's the point.

The novel begins with an uncomfortable—and all-too-familiar—scene when 25-year-old Emira, a Black woman, is accused of kidnapping Briar, the white toddler she is babysitting, in a grocery store late at night. From there, we receive the alternating perspectives of Emira and Alix Chamberlain, Briar's insecure mother who has mastered the art of cringe-worthy small talk and possesses a warped sense of self-awareness.

Overall, the #ReadWithMC community was obsessed with the book, including the smaller plot points Reid brilliantly weaved throughout the novel, though there was a bit of disappointment with the ending—a clear sign that the book warranted a thorough analysis all the way through the last page. (It's also worthy of a film adaptation—Lena Waithe's production company acquired the rights to it more than a year before the book's official release date.)

See exactly why Such a Fun Age is a must-read, below.

"There aren’t words to describe how much I loved Such a Fun Age. It is so light and airy, although it touches on issues of racism and being an ally so well. While I will definitely say that some of the characters are more easily able to learn from challenges thrown their way than others, I appreciate the fact that Reid didn’t wrap up the story with a pretty bow and call it a happy ending with rainbows and sparkles.⁣

I loved the amicable dialogue that Briar exhibits throughout the story and how freely she interrupts conversations among the adults she is speaking to. Although if you are easily annoyed by children, this may not be the book for you. Reid also seamlessly weaves arguments from both Emira and Alix’s perspectives, challenging the reader to sympathize with both characters. This is a fun yet thought-provoking read that I recommend you pick up sometime soon!⁣" —@sfbookgirl

"I didn’t think I would enjoy Such a Fun Age since it’s not something I usually read, but the writing flowed so well that I just breezed through the book! Such a Fun Age is about two very different women, Emira Tucker—a babysitter—and her boss, Alix Chamberlain. While Emira is a 25-year-old college graduate who has no idea what she wants to do with her life, Alix is a successful blogger with a seemingly perfect life. But then Emira is confronted by a security guard at a fancy grocery store and accused of kidnapping Briar—Alix’s child—everything changes.

The novel is an interesting look at themes of racism, motherhood, privilege, and growth. It shows how sometimes when we overstep and the more we try to help, the worse we make things. I liked how it wasn’t overly serious, but the themes were handled well and integrated into the story for us to realize rather than be forced upon us. The characterization was great, which is why I found the ending so disappointing. I think Emira’s growth and arc deserved a better conclusion and the ending just completely ruined Alix’s character for me. But overall it’s still a fun and enjoyable read, and one I wasn’t expecting to like so much." —@teacupbooks_

"Fantastic and thought-provoking novel about class, privilege, race, and consent. Reid is really great about articulating a lot of truths in a very honest and relatable way. There were definitely characters I loved to hate and many cringeworthy moments, but it felt very REAL. I loved how Emira, the main character, is figuring out life as many 25 year olds do. The struggle is real. Health insurance needs are real. And trying to figure out who is a friend and foe is real. This would be a great book club book because it is so layered and has so many elements to discuss. Mostly, I loved Emira. I was rooting for her and her big heart. Wonderful debut by Kiley Reid. I was able to hear her speak and she is so engaging that it’s no surprise she can write such a page-turner. It was also fun to #readwithmc and read with #reesesbookclub this month!" —@readtotheend

"I finished Such A Fun Age days ago, and I'm still thinking about it. It's so rare to find a book that has strong, nuanced female characters—and don't fall into a stereotype of hero or villain. Alix and Emira are carefully written to be neither 'good' nor 'bad,' 'right' nor 'wrong,' or defined only by the one traumatic event that happens to each of them in this novel. And Briar and Zara were two of the most endearing characters I've read in a while." —@jennyhollander

"Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is Such A Fun Read! (Sorry!) But really, it is! It’s about a 20-something who babysits for a woman in Philly, and it’s got such smart things to say about race, class, and modern love. You’ll def see this one being passed around among your bookish friends all year looooong." —@julievadnal

"I have been seeing this book everywhere! The cover is gorgeous and hard to miss, so I was immediately interested in seeing what this book is all about. Let me tell you a few reasons I loved this book: It is timely and relatable, it was incredibly well written, the character development was outstanding, and the audio book was so well done. I was immediately sucked into this story. This is the kind of story that really forces you to reflect and think about your own actions and how they can affect others." —@jaylamm.reads

"I have seen a lot of buzz about this book, and I was intrigued. It is a hard one to review, and I was left with conflicted feelings. I can tell you the audio was entertaining, and I can see why this has been called a 'compulsively readable' book.

The story begins with a racially-charged scene in a grocery store that was well-written and piqued my interest. As the story went on, I became more disappointed in the characters. Alix was very unlikeable and had very few redeeming qualities. I was appalled by several of her choices. That being said, I wasn’t a large fan of Emira’s character either, but she did show a little more growth as a person towards the end. I would love to have seen more character development and depth with both characters. I wish we would have gotten to know Emira’s backstory a little more as well as her outside of her role as a sitter. It is also hard for me when I don’t relate to any of the characters in the book.

My favorite moments of the book were with the toddler, Briar. She was cute and made me laugh (her voice is a little weird on audio, but it is an adult doing a child’s voice). I think this book tries hard to shed light on issues such as class, race, and white saviorism. But, ultimately, I wanted more from this book and these characters. I felt that the story lacked any major resolution, and the characters didn’t seem to grow from their experiences or as individuals. I am glad I read this book, but walking away I don’t think it is one that will stick with me or one I would read again. —@wordswithrach

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"I ate up Such a Fun Age. It’s so thought-provoking but doesn’t feel like homework. I love the way it caused me to take a hard look at my own life/actions/biases without making me feel judged. Reid does an excellent job of presenting varying perspectives and truths objectively—no preaching here. It’s fun but not frivolous, smart but not heavy. Such a great book to start the year with." —@danismcnally

"This is a book that opens with a public racial encounter when Emira Tucker, babysitter of Briar Chamberlain, is questioned and detained because a security guard isn’t convinced Briar hasn’t been kidnapped. The altercation was caught on film by another patron at the market and the events that follow will change Emira’s life forever.

I truly had such high hopes for this one. I knew coming from a very privileged background myself, it was going to challenge me. I just knew I was in for some conviction and would learn. But, in the end, I found this book to be more about gossip and revenge than about addressing real racial issues that we face daily whether my white eyes see it or not. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts I liked...the relationship between Emira and Briar was just about perfect. However, many of the characters were lacking in development, making their storylines almost seem pointless. I just wanted MORE. That said, I think there were many takeaways from this book, just wish it hadn’t left me feeling like there was something missing. Overall, I still think it’s a story that needs to be heard and therefore I give it three-a-half stars." —@paperbacksandpeonies

"What a RIDE. I’m hesitant to share too much about the plot because what I loved most about this book was the unexpected. Such a Fun Age is a much-hyped debut novel from Kiley Reid, and it’s definitely going to be *the* book club book of 2020. It’s extremely readable and plot-forward while tackling things like race, class, and privilege in smart, engaging ways. I also loved the portrayal of the early/mid-twenties, and Emira’s friend group felt so authentic and lovely.

I recommend you read it without knowing much about it, but if you want my thoughts/have already read it, here goes: Kiley Reid is telling liberal white people about ourselves. I saw myself reflected in Alix and Kelley in ways that made me uncomfortable, but I think are really valuable. She perfectly portrays how obsessed white people can be with black people while still maintaining white superiority. Alix is obsessed with Emira, making sure she doesn’t think she’s racist, meanwhile she expects Emira to think she’s incredible just by nature being a rich white woman. Reid also covers Tokenism with Tamra’s character, and SO much white exceptionalism when we white people think, I’m not racist like that white person over there. Kelley and Alix both do this, but completely deny Emira her own agency (though you could argue who does it more, I guess). The scene at the restaurant next to Kelley’s work! Damn. Super fascinating, well done book." —@allisonreadsdc

"#SuchAFunAge was my most anticipated book of the year and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. What a beautiful, insightful, and thought-provoking work of fiction. And to think that this is only Kiley Reid’s debut?! I fell in love right from the first page. The characters and friendships portrayed are so real and authentic, I felt like I was experiencing the situations first-hand. I laughed, I got angry. My emotions were taken on a journey from the start until the end.

The themes dealt with are incredibly important and it's amazing to see themes such as race, privilege, and white saviorism dealt with with such nuance. The writing style kept me engaged throughout and it was all in all such a fresh read despite the serious themes listed above." —@bookcoffeeandfun

Missed out on our January book club pick? In February, we'll be reading Megan Angelo's debut novel, Followers. Learn more about the book and read an exclusive interview with the author here.

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Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.