Kiley Reid’s debut novel has dominated the book charts since its release at the end of 2019 and it’s easy to understand why.
After hearing about the novel on an episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Beyond Today’ podcast, titled ‘Is wokeness just white guilt?’, I had to read it for myself. Such A Fun Age brings attention to overt displays of ‘wokeness’, however well-intentioned, serving as a critical commentary on the ways that the concept can actually magnify issues of race, class and privilege.
When Emira Tucker, a young black woman, is apprehended in a supermarket while babysitting the child of Alix Chamberlain, a white, upper-middle class mother, the Chamberlain’s resolve to put things right despite Emira’s clear discomfort. This event sets off a chain of events between the two women as their employer-employee relationship is tested.
Beginning with such a difficult altercation really sets the tone of the novel. It’s tense, infuriating and uncomfortable. It introduces the power relationship between Emira and Alix, which I found to be the focus of the novel. Emira, I’m sure, encapsulates the feelings of the majority of millennials in their 20s in that she feels a little lost. In comparison with her increasingly successful group of friends, Emira is floundering in adulthood. When the event occurs, she refuses to be defined by what happened in the supermarket, instead wanting to forget the incident happened and move on.
On the other hand, Alix is a successful, ‘feminist’ letter-writer / blogger (I think? She runs a business called LetHerSpeak, ironically aimed at empowering young women). Despite her ‘feminist’ brand, Alix’s actions toward Emira, while coming from a good place, prove to be entirely self-serving. The stark difference between the two women’s reactions – Emira’s stoicism compared with Alix’s fury – will definitely spark feelings of second-hand embarrassment.
And it’s supposed to. Alix’s immediate desire to control the situation, to right the world’s wrongs screams ‘white saviour’. She’s kind of like 2015’s answer to Skeeter in The Help. I’m sure we’ve all encountered an Alix at some point.
Don’t get me wrong, Reid’s writing is never preachy. There is still plenty of nuance in the novel, not just with Alix but with Emira’s white boyfriend Kelley and Alix’s friend Tamra, also. No character is one dimensional, although I found myself scanning over interactions between Kelley and Emira. It is a great story, but perhaps not a great love story.
Such A Fun Age taps into to the ‘woke’ zeitgeist, but not in the way you might assume. It highlights where purported intersectional feminism gets it wrong from the perspective of a young black woman. If you’re looking for a novel that remains fun and modern while tackling serious themes, definitely give this a read.
I’m giving it four stars – it loses one solely for Emira & Kelley’s boring relationship xx
Read the novel for yourself: https://whatlilyread.com/vv3x