Such a Fun Age is one of those books that are easy to read and entertaining, while delivering a big message that can change minds and attitudes.
The story is about a young woman who works as a babysitter for a wealthy New York couple who have moved to Philadelphia. One night, the mother asks the babysitter to take her daughter to a grocery store at night while she and her husband dealt with a minor emergency.
A security guard approached the babysitter, as the sight of a black woman with a little white girl made him suspicious. He wouldn’t let her leave until her white employer arrived, assuring him that all was well.
It is just one way within the story that race is explored – a timely theme at the moment.
It is also explored through the relationship between babysitter, Emira and her boss, Alix, and through Emira’s relationship with her white boyfriend, Kelley. While neither Alix nor Kelley are overtly racist, their behaviour suggests a certain casual racism that would horrify them if called out, and eventually it is. Both deny the charge, but are unable to adequately defend themselves.
Don’t let the hot pink of the cover or the title deceive you – this might be an easy read but it is not without depth.
In fact, at times I felt it cut to the quick, especially when Alix tried desperately, and unsuccessfully, to befriend Emira.
Here, on a superficial level, the power relationship is turned on its head, while material power continues to reside with Alix.
Strangely, despite Alix’s wealth and success, I felt sorry for her as she tried desperately to fit into her image of herself. While she behaved badly at two particular points during the story, she seemed almost childlike in her naivety and ignorance. It is difficult to see a time when she, a privileged white woman, could be happy or content.
Emira, in the other hand, while struggling to find a path for herself, in the face of overt and covert racism, seemed much more self-assured and, dare I say it, authentic. It was far easier to admire party-going Emira than it was her successful and influential employer.
This is a book of its time that will make you think about race in a way that is sometimes uncomfortable, but entirely convincing, and at the same time it’s an engrossing read that is hard to put down.