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A Review of “Such A Fun Age”: talking about white fragility in literature

Book cover of Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age. The book cover has hot pint writing for the title and light blue characters in a pattern on a white background. The book is sitting on a background with green leaves on a white background.

I loved Such A Fun Age. This book was so easy to read. It had me laughing and cringing from beginning to end. It has been a while since I couldn’t put a book down, and this book was definitely that — un-put-down-able.

The book offers up so many interesting discussion points but I wanted to talk about the issue that jumped out at me the most. There is a constellation of people who know each other to differing degrees: Kelley is Emira’s white boyfriend; Alix employs Emira, but dated Kelley in high school; and Briar is Alix’s daughter and the person that Emira looks after in her role as nanny. Emira is an African American woman and her, quite literal, black and white worlds are separated.

The opening of the novel begins with a scene that many African American people could relate to. Emira is in a small supermarket with Briar after Alix calls her and asks her to come take Briar out of the house because there has been an incident at their home. Emira leaves the party that she is at to go get Briar. The supermarket seemed like an obvious place for Emira to take Briar as it was close to Alix’s place and had enough distractions for Briar. However, a security guard assumes that Emira has kidnapped Briar and becomes extremely hostile towards her. The security guard is agitated and defensive. Emira call’s Briar’s father to come to the supermarket to defuse the situation, and it is only after Briar’s father shows up, a white man, that the security guard calms down. All the while this is happening, Kelley starts filming the incident for evidence and tries to get Emira to post about it publicly through social media.

In this scene, like many other scenes throughout the book, Emira’s voice – the voice of a black woman – is rarely centred by the other characters. The white voices either echo their own guilt about racism to the point of it stifling everything else, or they are so blinded by their own prejudices that they cannot see past their own white noses.

As the novel progresses, Kelley and Emira start dating and over a very awkward Thanksgiving dinner at Alix’s place, Emira learns that Kelley and Alix dated in high school. Alix and Kelley compete over Emira — trying to be more ‘woke’ than the other and with each thinking they are morally superior. Yet in all of this, no one truly listens to what Emira wants, needs, or does. Emira, throughout the novel, is treated in a very tokenistic way by many of the white people around her.

Emira is also seen as a caricature of ‘blackness’ by the white people around her. She is the poor black friend who just needs some help — perhaps a white savior in the form of a boyfriend or boss?

Interestingly, Tamra who is a black friend of Alix’s also seems to perpetuate some of these sentiments too in her own way. It seems that Tamra internalises some notions of classism when she says that she only wants to ‘help’ Emira. I wonder if Tamra feels that poor directionless people like Emira make other blacks look bad? Is it a question of internalised racism and classism with a sprinkle of lateral violence in the black community?

Reid’s novel exposes the many ways in which white fragility, guilt, and saviorism get in the way of real racial change. It is sharp and her prose cut deep. I truly cannot wait to read more of Reid’s novels.

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