On the day I finished this it was announced that Philadelphian resident Kelly Reid had won the Best Debut Award at The Goodreads Choice Awards, voted for by readers. I am not surprised that this book has won a popular vote as I would be hard pushed to come up with a suggestion for a better debut novel this year.
There are a lot of complex issues in this book presented in a highly readable, involving form. I found myself holding my breath when reading it, I was so gripped by the turn of events and felt on edge for the characters. It is very much a book for our age, certainly in keeping with a couple of other books written by women of colour I have read this year which feel so relevant, as well as being very well-written, Kia Abdullah’s stunning legal thriller “Truth Be Told” and Candice Carty-Williams’ British take in “Queenie”.
Reid’s richly drawn main character is Emira, a 25 year old young black woman living in Philadelphia who works part-time as a babysitter for two white children. One night, whilst at a party, she is called on for emergency child-care in order to remove the toddler Briar from the house for a time. With limited choices available at that time of night, Emira takes Briar to a supermarket which sets off a whole chain of events. This makes for a jaw dropping, tense beginning and repercussions and analysis of this event occupies all the main characters. At the supermarket the proceedings are filmed by a white man, Kelley, who Emira begins a relationship with. Her white employer, Alix becomes obsessed with this event and with Emira herself. The multi-layered plot thickens continually until the characters are in a right old stew. Whose behaviour is without blame? Who is using who to score points and how far can all of the characters’ actions and justifications be classed as racist? It is especially pertinent (following the publication of this book) with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s non-fiction work “Why I’m Not Talking To White People About Race” (2018) belatedly topping the UK best sellers list but here we have some of these issues within a vibrantly written, involving fiction work which is so impressive. There is great warmth and humour which also deepens the issues raised. If we are to class this as an issue-led book it is so rich in character. I would imagine this could well be a very big bestseller when the paperback is published on 29th December.
My only reservation is the title and I know it’s ironic but it doesn’t convey the feel of the book and may detract purchasers, especially in the UK, where it has a kind of a “jolly hockey-sticks” air about it but surely this will be compensated by the very good word of mouth and its featuring in end of year lists, including The Daily Telegraph’s Best Books, that Goodreads win, a Booker longlist nod and The Independent calling it “the book of the year.”
“Such A Fun Age” was published in hardback in the UK in 2020 by Bloomsbury Circus. The paperback edition is scheduled for 29th December.