In brief: Emira doesn’t really know what she wants to do in life. She babysits Briar, but one night she is accused of kidnapping her. That sets in place an awkward relationship between her and her employer Alix which only becomes more complex…
The good: Excellent characterisation
The not-so-good: A little bit difficult to settle into the book at first as past and present are described.
Why I chose it: The buzz! Thanks to Bloomsbury for the copy.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Setting: Philadelphia, USA
Rating: 9 out of 10
Within an hour of a copy of Such a Fun Age arriving at my house, I was reading it. I had been really looking forward to reading the book with such good buzz surrounding it and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Despite a busy weekend, I ignored everything it was possible to ignore and read, read, read. This was a wonderful read that didn’t back away from issues of class, race and general human awkwardness. There were cringeworthy moments as the characters got themselves into uncomfortable situations (and then dug themselves in further) but I just couldn’t tear myself away. Such a Fun Age is so readable and thought provoking.
The story opens with Emira out with her friends, celebrating a birthday. She’s called by the mother of the little girl she babysits and asked to take her out as there has been an incident at home. Emira agrees and takes Briar to the local grocery store to look at the nuts and smell the teas, all things that Briar really enjoys. While there, she is confronted by a security guard on suspicion of kidnapping Briar. The problem? Emira is black, Briar is white. The interaction is caught on camera but Emira doesn’t want the footage to go any further. She calls Briar’s father and the incident is sorted. But that kicks off a sense of shame and an attempt for Alix (Briar’s mother) to befriend Emira. That’s where things get really awkward and further complicated by a coincidence between Alix and Emira’s lives which leads to a social media furore and a finale played out on screen. It’s all wonderfully complex.
The characters are what makes Such a Fun Age a memorable book. Briar, who is three, is a curious child who comes out with all sorts of random questions and statements which are usually spot on and/or hilarious. It’s easy to see why Emira feels so strongly about Briar and wants to be her babysitter even though her relationship with Alix is weird. (This says much more about Alix than it does Emira.) Alix has a complex history with money, internet fame and work. Some of this comes to the fore when she returns to Philadelphia, her home town, to live. Alix is lonely without her friends in New York and tends to cling on to Emira as some sort of fantasy friend who she can share wine and secrets with. But checking Emira’s messages, encouraging her to wear the uniform of Alix’s brand and attempting heart to hearts with her is just plain weird. Alix is adrift, ignorant of Briar but indulgent of her infant daughter Catherine because she does pretty much nothing but sleep. She’s meant to be writing a book but gets nowhere, plotting ways to save Emira from her boyfriend and then actually confronting him at work. Emira is adrift too, in that she doesn’t have a definite path in life and little money to spare compared to her friends who are all making their way in the world. But Alix and Emira are from different generations and have different agendas, this is never going to work beyond the basics. Alix puts her foot in it more than once with her entitlement and takes the employer-employee relationship into wrongful territory. Their interactions are filled with awkward moments and in the end, I found it difficult to like Alix as she’s just so clueless about the world.
Such a Fun Age is a book that explores race, class and privilege in a clear fashion, questioning the motivations of characters and in turn provoking the reader to question their own actions and the way they treat others. It’s also a ‘drop everything’ story about the relationship of two women, looking at every aspect (good and bad).