From the moment I picked up Such a Fun Age in St Andrews’ Waterstones, I knew this book would be an interesting and uncomfortable read, but that is exactly why I had a feeling I would love it. In particular, the synopsis ‘Black babysitter accused of kidnapping white rich lady’s toddler’ gave me the most horrible feeling of dread of things to come and automatically triggered a reaction of white guilt within me, although I wasn’t aware that was what I was feeling at the time.
To briefly summarise, after a family incident, Alix Chamberlain phones her babysitter, Emira Tucker, in the early hours of the morning, asking her to take the eldest child off her hands for a few hours. Emira comes straight from a night out, in her best party dress (not exactly babysitting attire), and takes the child to the supermarket where she narrowly avoids being arrested. The event was a simple example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet reminds the reader of similar circumstances that have all too often resulted in the deaths of too many black men and women in the USA, notably Breonna Taylor.
Author Kiley Reid’s novel touches on issues of racism and classicism, both of which constitute a strong theme throughout, despite never being explicitly stated. What I particularly enjoyed about the book was the depth, irony, and thought behind each character. A 26-year-old black woman trying to find her purpose in life, Emira is constantly worrying about her next paycheck and finding a job with health insurance. On the other hand, Emira’s boss, Alix, is a white woman who seemingly has it all: a successful career, a loving husband and children, and a suburban home in Philadelphia. The irony is that while Emira is working two jobs to stay afloat in an American job market that favours white people, Alix, is too preoccupied with befriending Emira – out of her own self-interest – to notice her unhappiness and money troubles. Although Reid conveys Alix’s attempts to be ‘woke’ with witty humor, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with the character. At times, I was internally screaming at how oblivious she was to her white privilege. After all, she has everything that a working woman could want, and yet she is so consumed by her white guilt from the incident in the supermarket that she becomes obsessed with easing her guilty conscience. This made me question the sick feeling I had when I first read the blurb, back in the bookshop, which I now recognise to be that same guilt Alix feels.
Overall, Reid’s novel taught me that white guilt is a natural reflex, and should certainly be recognised within ourselves in order to move past it, but also, that it helps no one, especially not the black community. Alix’s guilt definitely doesn’t help Emira, and is entirely self-serving. As Emira puts it, “I don’t need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like… happens.” She doesn’t need the white people around her to fight her own battles. Reid makes it clear in her interview with Politics and Prose that her book is not a piece of activism, but is instead a catalyst for the difficult conversations about privilege and race that need to be had. This book is not only a fantastic read that holds many more exciting and complex themes beyond race, but it also left me with a changed mindset, a self-pledge to be more aware of my white privilege, to continue to educate myself on Black history, and the discrimination that Black people face daily.