Alix Chamberlain is the white owner of a small, successful Philadelphia business. She has a toddler and an infant as well as a book to write, so she hires 25-year-old Temple University graduate Emira Tucker, who is black, to babysit three days a week. Alix considers Emira a godsend and wants her to know it. Kiley Reid's debut novel, Such a Fun Age, is about the way that good deeds fueled by even the best intentions can fizzle under the weight of unacknowledged self-interest.
One Saturday, Emira gets a phone call from Alix at nearly 11 p.m.: she's in a jam and needs care for her toddler. Emira can use the cash, so she drops everything to kill time at an upscale grocery store with the two-year-old.
At the market, a middle-aged white woman sees Emira with the white toddler and alerts a security guard, who confronts Emira, suggesting that she has kidnapped the child. Alix is appalled by the incident and wants to prove to Emira that she isn't just another entitled white person. Reid, who is black, has an acute understanding of well-meaning white people's sometimes squirmy racial sensitivity. A lesser writer would have taken the book's powder-keg material--which does, of course, ultimately explode--and set it off with too-easy satire. The strength of Such a Fun Age lies in Reid's even hand with both Emira and Alix, whose points of view switch off fairly regularly throughout the novel. Neither character is archetypal: Emira is levelheaded but frustratingly aimless, and Alix is entitled without being risible--well, until the book's end. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer