Such a Fun Age is a contemporary fiction by Kiley Reid. It explores themes of identity, friendship, class, privilege, and relationships through the perspective of a young black woman, Emira.
While babysitting for a wealthy white family one night, Emira is accused of kidnapping the child. That incident changes the relationship between Emira and the family and reveals the power dynamics at play.
At the beginning of the book, we meet Emira Tucker having fun at a birthday celebration for one of her close friends. She has had a few drinks when she gets a call from Alix. It’s a babysitting emergency because some kids threw eggs at Alix’s house and broke a window.
We later find out what motivated this incident. Alix’s husband, Peter, upon seeing two extravagant invitations to prom, made a sexist/racist remark. He hadn’t commented on the white teens, but after seeing an invitation from a black boy, he’d expressed his hope that the black boy’s date had asked her father before saying yes to the invitation.
Late Night Babysitting
After calculating what she would get paid for the late-night babysitting, double-time along with cab fees, Emira went to the Chamberlain house with her friend Zara. The baby, Catherine, stayed home while Emira took the almost three years old, Briar, to Market Depot, the nearby grocery store. Alix wanted to get Briar out of the house when the police came, and Briar’s fascination at the time was nuts (and smelling tea bags).
Briar, Zara, and Emira walked around the store, and then Zara started playing some music for them to dance, in the freezer section. It was after 10 pm and the store was quiet with few other customers. A white woman and a white man who came through the aisle both seemed charmed by the dancing. Zara left a few minutes later before a security officer approached Emira and Briar. He started questioning Emira, accusing her of taking the child, and wanting to speak to the child’s parents. The White female customer came back to the aisle; she’d alerted the guard, seemingly worried about the child. The other customer, a white male, recorded the altercation. The security guard would not let Emira leave until he spoke to one of Briar’s parents. Emira called Peter, who jogged to the store to explain the situation to the security guard.
They were doing some … I don’t even know … some booty dancing or whatnot? And I thought, okay, this doesn’t feel right.well meaning White woman in the store
Once outside the store, Emira asked the guy, Kelly, to erase the video on his phone. She was not interested in going to court with the guard or the store. He convinced her to email it to herself before deleting it from his phone.
After the Incident
After this incident, Alix felt bad and tried to assuage her guilt by getting to know Emira. She knew nothing about Emira’s life. Briar talked nonstop and that, along with her energy, exhausted Alix. Emira was hired to babysit three days a week; she worked doing transcription at the Green Party the other two days. Alix found Emira after interviewing several white women who knew about her and her business Let Her Speak; she found all of them unsuitable for the babysitting job.
Alix made a living from writing letters. She used those letters to get things she wanted, and she also taught other people to do the same. Emira showed no curiosity toward Alix. When Alix tried to make Emira her friend, Emira was polite. She had wine with her once, but was still mostly quiet in their interactions. She continued to call Alix Mrs. Chamberlain.
When Emira next ran into Kelly, he asks her out, and that starts their relationship with each other. She’s surprised that all his friends whom she meets are black, but not overly concerned about it. Despite her reservations about dating a white man and the 7 years difference between them, they keep seeing each other. Emira ignores any red flags that come up.
After weeks of trying to draw Emira out, offering her wine, and trying to learn things about her life, Alix convinces Emira to come over for Thanksgiving and to bring her boyfriend along. She wants to show herself in her best light and impress Emira. She also wants her black friend, Tamra, to impress and influence Emira, to help her find herself.
Kelly and Emira had spoken about their previous relationships, and Kelly had revealed the poor phrasing that he used to break up with his high school girlfriend. He thought she was a rich, spoiled girl. Alix was that girl, except she went by Alex back then.
In the version of the story Alix told her friends, Kelly treated her poorly, showing her most private letter to a popular black boy, Robbie, whom he (Kelly) wanted for a friend. Alix planned to lose her virginity to Kelly on a weekend while her parents were gone. Robbie asked Alix to have a party and she said no. Later that night, after Alix and Kelly had had sex, Robbie and his friend showed up and started partying in and around the pool. Alix called the cops, claiming that it was necessary to protect her (black) nanny and sister. Many of the teens managed to escape the cops, but Robbie didn’t. He was stripped of his scholarships and other opportunities. Alix and her sister because outcasts at school.
Alix was shocked when Emira and Kelly showed up together at her home. Alix explained what was going on to her friends, and Kelly sent Emira a text message to let her know that Alix was the messed-up girl he’d talked about breaking up with. Thanksgiving dinner was awkward with all the women knowing the situation but none of the men.
At dinner, while everyone was fawning over a baby, Catherine, Briar had a panic attack. When Emira calmed her down away from everyone, she found out that Briar thinks Catherine is the favorite, and that bothers her. She doesn’t like it when Catherine gets all the attention. This is why Briar works for Alix. She knows that Alix can be a good mom, but she does not extend this to Briar in the way she does to Catherine. However, she explains to Briar that there are no favorites in the family, despite having a contrary experience in her own family.
From Thanksgiving, Alix and Kelly were at war with each other, with Emira the prize for whom they fought. Kelly wanted Emira to immediately stop working for Alix. He saw Alix as an entitled woman with a history of selfishness and using Black people. On the other hand, Alix wanted her to see Kelly as a bad man who fetishizes Black people and breaks up with him. Emira listened to both of them but moved at her own pace. She loved Briar and wasn’t sure what else she wanted to do for work.
The Video Leak
Alix confronted Kelly in person, and they fight about the past as well as about Emira. She told him to leave her alone, but Kelly revealed that he is in love with Emira. Each of them stays entrenched in their position as they fight, and Kelly eventually walked away. When Alix got home, she realized that she’d left Catherine home alone.
Alix decided to leak the video. She sent it to her own email when Emira left her email logged in on the house computer.
Emira was out with friends celebrating her 26th birthday when she found out about the leak. After getting hold of Kelly’s phone and email, her friend found the video in his sent mailbox. Thinking Kelly was the only one with access to the video besides Emira, they condemned him as guilty of the act.
Alix had a history of using her family and children to advance her business and saw an opportunity. She arranged for her husband’s co-host to interview her, Emira, and Briar in her home. This would be an opportunity for her to also promote her business and upcoming book. She also offered Emira a nanny position to free herself up to do some teaching. Emira accepted.
On the day of the interview, Emira’s best friend, Zara, overheard a conversation between Tamra and Alix that let her realize Alix had leaked the video. In the upstairs bathroom, while Emira is getting ready for the interview, Zara tells her what she found out.
Emira had received some support, including an offer of increased work hours from her Green Party employer. Zara coached her to accept that job and advocate for benefits, which were not part of the initial offer.
Emira decided to do the interview anyway. However, when Alix said that Emira would be working with her full-time, Emira revealed her change of plans. She used the same line Kelly had used to break up with Alex in declining Alix’s offer. While Zara created a planned distraction, Emira got Briar to try to tell her goodbye. Her final words to Alix were to love her daughter Briar even though it was hard for her.
The Ending of Such a Fun Age
At the end of her senior year, Alix volunteered to clean the lockers. When she did, she found several letters that she’d written to Kelly in the space between Robbie and Kelly’s locker. This explained what happened; Kelly had not shown Robbie her letter, but rather the letter had slipped through Kelly’s locker into Robbie’s. Alix never told anyone. She continued to blame Kelly and let her hatred for him fuel her. When she moved to New York from Allentown, she changed her name from Alex to Alix.
Believing that Kelly was he starting point of her adversity would always be easier than believing she’d simply slipped through an unlucky crack.Alix, Chapter 27
Emira worked at the front desk of the Green Party for only 5 weeks before she got offered a job by the regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau after the director noticed a caring interaction between Emira and her son at an event. Emira worked for her as an administrative assistant and enjoyed her job.
Emira did not get back together with Kelly. He messaged her after seeing the interview, but she didn’t respond. When she later saw him around town, he was with a light-skinned Black woman, using the same way of talking he’d used with her.
She also sees Briar and Alix at a Halloween event. Alix was preoccupied with Catherine while Briar got a “nice lady”, a Black nanny, to help her move her decorated pumpkin.
Emira moved on with her life, thinking of Briar occasionally. She hoped that Briar would be a self-sufficient person, but also dreaded that she would just hire someone to fill any holes and not find her own way.
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