Originally published January 19, 2019
Because Iowa Writers’ Workshop, of course.
Really, if you ever want a clue as to whether or not a book is worth your time, if you see, “Iowa Writers’ Workshop” then just stop looking and buy it because everything I’ve ever read that’s come from that group has been just outstanding.
And with “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid, it’s no different.
Reid’s debut is a heart-piercing look at relationships and race, set in almost-present day Philadelphia. The novel’s protagonist, Emira Tucker, is staring down her 26th birthday and the prospect of being kicked off her parents’ health insurance with few prospects in the way of a full-time job with benefits. And she’s not looking that hard because, honestly, she likes her three-year-old charge, Briar Chamberlain, too much to leave her in the hands of another babysitter.
When confronted with a racially-charged situation at the outset of the story, Emira is quickly reminder of her station in life and would prefer to, well, just not be confronted with anything. And that’s where the story starts and ends — with Emira’s friends, boyfriend, employer and others in Emira’s ear, telling her what she should or should not do, when she is still just looking for the motivation that will propel her to true adulthood and a job that pays enough to cover the rent.
Emira is so incredibly complicated, as is her boyfriend and her boss — two people that make up the twist that keeps readers from putting this book down until they finish it in a single sitting. Kelley and Alix both have past, and stories to tell, and Emira is at the center, trying to discern which is the truth and which is a story designed to curry her favor.
I am white and I was married for a few years when I was Emira’s age, so it would be foolish to assume I can completely relate to her character, but at the same time, she is so relatable. The angst over whether or not the attempts at adulting are successful. The pain she feels for Briar who already knows at 3 she is not the favorite child. The frustration that occurs when she wants to be a good friend but feels like she can’t afford it. Reid’s story captures the reader with a rich, layered narrative that avoids the rookie mistake of being overly descriptive or forced. She opens her characters’ lives and invites the reader in. And we are captivated.
I absolutely loved this book and think it would make for a great book club pick — so much to break down. And not just Emira, but Alix. My goodness, but there is some crazy there. Do not pass this one up.