“A comedy of good intentions” might seem an improbable description of a book that lays bare issues of race and class in contemporary America—but that’s how Kiley Reid aptly sums up her debut novel, Such a Fun Age. As the book begins, there’s certainly not much to laugh about: A young black woman in an upscale grocery store in Philadelphia is accused of kidnapping the white toddler she’s babysitting. A heated exchange with the market’s security guard ensues—all recorded on video—and the woman is allowed to leave only after the child’s father arrives to explain the situation. But any good comedy is about subverting expectations, and this ominous, all-too-familiar instance of racial profiling gives way to a funny, fast-paced social satire about privilege in America, and about, as Reid said in a recent book talk, the “everyday domestic biases that we don’t even know we have.”
At the heart of the novel is Emira Tucker, the babysitter, who is an aimless 25-year-old former English major with a far-from-conventional background. She comes from a family of makers—bookbinders, latte artists, seamstresses, beekeepers—whose proclivity for craftsmanship is “so dogged that it leaned into religious territory.” Her parents and siblings had fallen easily into their chosen fields, but Emira struggled to discover a passion of her own. Waiting “for her hands to find themselves,” she left her small Maryland town for Philadelphia, where she became the first person in her family to attend a four-year college. After graduating, she still feels lost, and “in a quiet panic” about her finances and career trajectory, she takes a part-time babysitting gig.
If Emira is something of an anomaly, her boss, Alix Chamberlain, is a caricature of the working-mom influencer. She’s 33, white, upper-middle class, and obsessed with remaining “relevant”—which to her means slim, plugged into the Manhattan scene, and sought after by Hillary Clinton’s campaign (the novel kicks off in 2015). In college, Alix blogged about luxury products she was sent after writing companies gushing letters on fancy stationery. In her late 20s, she developed an Instagram-based female-empowerment brand called Let Her Speak. With little more than tidy cursive and a B.A. in marketing as credentials, she began appearing on panels to preach a Lean In–like approach to work and love.