book review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

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SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid
★★☆☆☆
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

 

So, first things first: my expectations for this book were all wrong.  Most summaries of this book describe in detail the novel’s first 20 or so pages, in which the protagonist, Emira, a young Black woman, takes the white toddler she’s babysitting to a local supermarket and is accused of kidnapping her.  From this I expected something sort of Celeste Ng-esque, or maybe even comparable to Jodi Picoult’s courtroom thrillers; the reality of this book is much more banal.  Shortly after The Inciting Incident, everything goes back to normal, except for the fact that Alix, the mother of the toddler Emira was babysitting, becomes fixated on making amends, to the point where Emira’s wishes are disregarded entirely in Alix’s attempt to do good by her.

The theme of performative allyship is a topical one, but it’s not navigated with any particular finesse.  I think there’s a good book in here somewhere, buried deep under irritating dialogue and commonplace events unfolding with melodrama; take for example this description of a toddler throwing up at a dinner party – this is the seriousness with which this utterly unremarkable event is written: “And when Emira grabbed what she knew was a very expensive napkin and dove across the table to cover the toddler’s mouth, Jodi was the first to notice and scream.”  The chapter ends there.  At ‘Jodi was the first to notice and scream’ I thought the child was about to have a seizure and be rushed to the hospital, but not even in a way where I felt the tension?  This whole book was melodrama one-step removed.

And as much as I admired Reid’s intentions, I couldn’t help but to feel that the whole thing was just so heavy-handed.  It’s so easy to intuit Emira, Alix, and Kelley’s narrative functions so early on that I could never quite believe any of them as real people or become invested.  I just felt like Reid knew exactly what she wanted to say with this book but not how she wanted to say it; the novel as a whole feels clunky and unfocused, like a quilt that’s stapled together rather than sewn.

Ultimately: a perfectly fine debut and a good book club book (I don’t mean that in a judgmental way! if you want to force your friends or coworkers into having a serious conversation about racism and white allyship, by all means start here!) but as a literary novel this left so much to be desired that its inclusion in the Booker longlist is… baffling to me.

17 thoughts on “book review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

  1. As you know, I found the experience of reading this a lot more fun than you did, but I agree with everything you say about it – it was very heavy-handed! I do think Reid has a lot of promise as a writer, but I was surprised to see this on the Booker longlist.

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    • Definitely! I think at the end of the day I could have thrown all my complaints out the window if I had had a fun time reading it, but I found it to be such a drag; every time I put it down I had no desire to pick it back up. It’s not an offensively terrible book or anything but I also truly do not understand why it was longlisted.

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  2. This sounds like a very fair review, and confirmed my fears that this book would end up being underwhelming. While I love the idea of a story that explores performative allyship, I just didn’t think this would be it, and have seen a few reviews calling it rather superficial, which really doesn’t convince me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Superficial is EXACTLY the word. I’d definitely love to read other, better books on the theme of performative allyship – it’s interesting for sure but this was… not it.

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  3. omg YES the dialogue was so irritating, and it was like 10x more irritating on audiobook too – why did alix’s daughter interrupt every single character’s conversations with weird questions ??!?!?!? KIDS DONT EVEN TALK LIKE THAT JUST LET ME READ ME READ THE DIALOGUE IN PEACE PLS

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  4. Hmmm okay. I can work with underwhelming. Those “there’s a good book in here somewhere” reads can be so frustrating, but I am glad to see that as your negative rather than anything outright offensive or poorly addressed. I shall adjust my expectations for heavy-handed lack of finesse. Great review!

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  5. When I first heard about this book I thought I would definitely read and enjoy it but ever since it came out it seems to be receiving largely lackluster reviews and now everyone is questioning its place on the Booker and I think I’m ok with not reading it.

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  6. Ahaha I love a good bad review of a book I felt indifferent about (but haven’t been brave enough to give two stars because everyone else I knew in the industry adored it). It shouldn’t be on the Booker list – especially not if Hamnet isn’t.

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