Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
In the opening pages of Kiley Reid’s debut, Emira, a 26-year-old African American woman and regular babysitter to toddler Briar, is summoned by Briar’s parents at short notice. They’re having a stressful evening involving a broken window and need their curious daughter out of the way. When Emira whisks Briar off to what is later referred to as ‘the whitest grocery store in Philadelphia’ to kill time, she’s accused of kidnapping by the security guard. From that moment, things escalate in all manner of unexpected ways.
The novel settles into an addictive structure, alternating chapters between Emira, who begins seeing a man who filmed the stand-off on his phone, and Briar’s mother Alix, a blogger, influencer and champion of ambitious professional women, who is all for ‘lawyering up’ to resolve the ugly matter. When it becomes clear Emira wants to put it all behind her, Alix channels masses of energy into seeking Emira’s approval and friendship (in between pretending to write a book and courting the 2016 Clinton campaign). Soon, Alix’s initial well-meaning instincts are mingled with uglier motives and tainted by her messy past. In her self-consciously progressive way, she’s almost blind to the genuine plight of Emira, who looks at her diverse peers and feels that one racist security guard is nothing compared to the real problems of a woman like her navigating her mid-20s.
Via a simple plot that hinges on a couple of just-about-believable coincidences, Kiley Reid finds so much to say about class dynamics and white privilege – not just in the broad strokes of the story, or how the different perspectives cast those events in different light, but also in overheard snatches of conversation, extracts from group text chats, and precise environmental details. It’s a witty and illuminating book that will lend it brilliantly to the inevitable TV adaptation.