It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In Kiley Reid’s pitch-perfect debut novel, Such a Fun Age, no one is quite cursed to eternal damnation. But Reid does show, with both biting humor and enormous empathy, how deeply awry good intent can go—especially when it comes to the complicated issues of race and class in late-2010s America.
The novel opens on a Saturday night in 2015, in a bougie grocery store in gentrifying Philadelphia. A young black woman is accused of kidnapping her white babysitting charge, and a bystander captures a video of her heated argument with the security guard and the “concerned citizen” who reported her. No one is allowed to leave (“for the good of the child”) until the toddler’s father shows up to vouch for his employee.
Emira, the babysitter, a recent college graduate trying to figure out her career (or at least what kind of job will give her health insurance after her impending 26th birthday), is a private person and wants to put the event behind her. But suddenly, she finds a number of people unduly concerned for her well-being—namely Kelley, the white man who filmed the encounter and who becomes a love interest; and Alix (pronounced Ah-leeks, because of course), her employer.
Every character in this book is fascinating—Reid has a knack for detail, and her characters are nuanced and richly drawn—but none more so than Alix, a vaguely feminist blogger and lifestyle influencer with a book deal and an in at the Hillary Clinton campaign. New to Philadelphia and lonely, Alix becomes fixated on Emira and how she can right the injustices done to her babysitter. But Emira doesn’t need and isn’t looking for a white savior, and Alix, who “asked nicely for the things she wanted, and it became a rare occurrence when she didn’t receive them,” is in for a rude awakening.
Though the book—which has already been optioned by Lena Waithe for a TV series—could certainly be considered satire, and Reid has sharp wit to spare, she’s also kind to her characters. All are flawed, but none are clichés. And as they reckon with demons from their past and hopes for the future, Reid seems to want to emphasize that they are trying to do good. They may fumble, but it’s hard not to root for most of them as they do.