Wake Up, Woke People: Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age (2019) is the debut novel of author Kiley Reid. A novel about race, class, and privilege in America, it is a profound take on the effects of self-delusion. Emira, a college graduate in her mid-twenties, begins nannying for the successful Alix, an InstaMom who brands her social privilege with “#GirlBoss” and always chooses the perfect filter. As calculated as she is bubbly, Alix is the ultimate embodiment of the faux-every girl facade. Is she evil? No. Is she racist? Probably. Is it that simple? No way.

John Cuneo for The Atlantic

Emira brings Alix’s toddler to a local organic market. At the prompting of a deceptively friendly middle-aged white female customer, a guard tries to hold Emira on suspicion of kidnapping. Here, she meets her soon-to-be love interest, Kelley, who films the encounter.

The complex dynamics between Alix and Emira, and Kelley and Emira are captivating. Systemic issues like racism do not operate on a binary system in everyday life. They are insidiously interwoven into the fabric of our daily lives. As such, they are difficult to untangle even when we recognize them.

Emira is faced with two socially privileged, white people, both of whom appear to be acting with good intentions. They want to help Emira, but they don’t truly know her. Subtle racism is introduced by virtue of their assumption that they know who Emira needs to grow into, and that they can facilitate her way there.

Yet, calling Alix or Kelley racist does not help us deeply understand their inappropriate projections towards Emira. We are introduced to the possibility that an outsider does not get to define what is appropriate regarding the dynamic between others.

Such a Fun Age provokes us to look bear witness to the messiness in which we are all entangled. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, it is this interweaving, this messiness, that ties us together. It gives us community and warmth and also reminds us that our actions have consequences. To pull on a thread can lead to an unraveling, and it is often one we cannot repair alone.

Poet-Hearted Scientist. I write, therefore I think. I NYC | MS Candidate, Narrative Medicine at Columbia University | juliamknox.com