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Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Bloomsbury Books, 2021

This international bestselling debut is pitched around a pivotal scene in the book, whereby babysitter Emira Tucker is presumed by the security guard at a local supermarket to have kidnapped the white child in her care.

Emira calls her employer, TV host and “old white guy” Peter, who arrives on the scene and mollifies the guard. This may have been an end to the matter, except it turns out that a fellow shopper, a young white man called Kelley, has filmed the entire episode on his phone.

Running into Emira on the subway not long after the incident, Kelley tries to convince Emira to publish the video and bring charges against the security guard - but she’d rather let it pass and get on with her life. She does, however, start dating Kelley.

Following the incident at the supermarket, Emira’s employer Alix – who runs a feminist brand, has a book coming out shortly and is trying to hide the fact that she no longer lives in NYC from her audience - tries to assuage her guilt of wealthy, white privilege with embarrassing attempts to befriend Emira, including inviting her and Kelley “as family” to her Thanksgiving dinner, where she is at pains to demonstrate that she has other black friends. The dinner goes disastrously wrong when it transpires that Kelley is the ex of Alix’s from high school who “ruined her senior year”, adding yet more layers of complication to Alix’s misguided attempts to signal liberal virtues.

The premise sounds as if this might be a novel infused with judgement, possibly with an outcome which delivers a firm lesson; but it’s way more sophisticated than that. As the title implies, Such a Fun Age is a shrewd comedy of manners for our times. Its characters are individuals, not cardboard cut-outs: Emira is markedly less bothered by race than her wealthy white liberal employer, who falls over herself to make the right noises and “do the right thing”; or her white boyfriend Kelley, whose interest in black girls – and indeed black male friends - verges on a fetish. Emira is simply a Gen Z girl trying to keep up with her friends and get a job which will pay the rent.

Such a Fun Age brilliantly encapsulates our age. It makes gentle social observations without – despite its central premise - being pointedly “about race”; and in this lies its genius. It undoubtably makes us think, and feel uncomfortable at times; but by presenting a canvas of life as it is today with all its nuances, highlighting societal issues whilst injecting an element of humour, it suggests that we just might be on the verge of emerging from the recent culture wars towards a more discursive climate.

I hope that it won’t be long before the TV series of Such a Fun Age, as Emira Tucker is truly a heroine of our times. Highly recommended.

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