About mini reviews:
Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .
Emira Tucker is a college grad, but the twenty-five year-old black woman is a bit stuck in limbo. She still has an apartment and a roommate, has never dated seriously, and works as a part-time babysitter, meaning she’s financially left behind her three best girlfriends who have salaries.
Alix (that’s “uh-leeks”) Chamberlain is a white self-made businesswoman at thirty-two, adapted to New York City life after changing her whole high school self, back when she was just “Alex.” But after she marries a small station TV anchor and has two daughters, they move to Pittsburgh. She hires a babysitter via Craigslist, sight unseen (meaning she doesn’t know Emira is black), and this is how Emira enters her life. Alix struggles to maintain who she was in NYC while living in Pennsylvania, so she clings to Emira as a potential friend and pet project.
On the evening news, Alix’s husband says, without thinking, something construed as racist and sexist by viewers. After a segment in which a black boy proposes a white girl go to prom with him, Alix’s husband says he hopes the girl got her father’s permission. Around midnight, someone eggs his house, one of which breaks a window. After the police are called, Alix contacts Emira, even though it’s late, even though Emira is at a club with her girlfriends, to come get Alix’s toddler dressed just as she is. Just get her out of the house to avoid stressing her out — that is Alix’s rationale. Emira and the toddler head to a local grocery store at which the Chamberlain’s shop, an expensive yuppie store, so the toddler can look at nuts and coffees (this toddler is unusual). There, Emira is accused of kidnapping this sweet little white toddler because she is a black woman dressed in revealing clothes. The scene is much shorter than the synopsis of the book would lead you to believe. It’s also not the focus.
While I thought Such a Fun Age would be a book that circled around one major issue, much like The Hate U Give, it isn’t. Rather than being a statement about racism, it demonstrates how racism affects us all every day, as passive observers, perpetrators, or victims. Emira doesn’t want the security guard fired, nor the store to be punished. She’s not into social media and doesn’t want to share the video that another customer, a guy named Kelley, has taken of the event.
Yet, Emira is subjected to microaggressions throughout the novel, both racist and ageist, and it comes from people of different races and genders, too. For example, Kelley is white, but he wants Emira to release the video he took because racism is wrong. All of Kelley’s friends and ex-girlfriends are black. Why? Later, Alix’s only black friend, a principal in NYC, asks Emira what’s “up under” her hair in some weird effort to bond on their first meeting over black women hair care that makes Emira uncomfortable. Are such personal questions acceptable because both women are black?
The most compelling part of Such a Fun Age is the way people try to control Emira with the motive that they are “helping.” Whether it’s Emira’s three best girlfriends, or Alix and her three best girlfriends, or Emira’s new boyfriend, Kelley, there’s always someone who thinks they can fix this young woman, who is given little say in her own life. Get her a real job, send her to grad school, make her more involved in social justice, make her apartment look more “adult,” make her take a stand she doesn’t believe in. The novel feels like a crossover between the standard female friendship quartet, like Sex and the City, and real-life situations that happen all around us.
There are layers and layers to the conversation author Kiley Reid created that I would never be able to cover in one review, making this an excellent book club pick. The main question might be “What is racist and what is happenstance, and who decides?” And no one is divided neatly into a category based on race, making the story compelling and realistic. Because it’s not trying to make a point, but instead make you think, Such a Fun Age was a winner in my book.
I was impressed with the depth and care that narrator Nicole Lewis brought to the book. If a character says, “umm” then there is an inflection that gives it meaning that I wouldn’t have caught on page, such as raising the “umm” at the end to make it sound like “Yeah, I’ll pretend to consider what you said but I’m not doing any of that.” Many Goodreads reviewers noted the “horrible” dialogue that I found sounded perfectly natural in the audiobook format. While I believe Such a Fun Age would do just okay as a text, the audiobook is delightfully dynamic and engaging.