Thanks to netgalley, and to Bloomsbury for providing me with the digital copy of this novel.
Predominantly set in Philadelphia, where writer Kiley Reid lives, this was a really surprising read. That is a good thing, honest. The blurb and the opening chapters relate a story of a young black woman taking the white child she babysits for to a shop while her parents sort some emergency at home. While she’s there, she is accused of kidnapping the child and a heart sinking episode unfolds.
It quickly moves on from there though, and Emira’s character grows with each chapter she leads – her life, her friends, her hopes and dreams. The other perspective is her boss’, which is interesting as it shows both the similarities and the stark differences. They’re not too far apart in age – perhaps not even a decade – but their lives are in sharp contrast in lots of ways, which is really effectively communicated. For example, Emira always calls her boss ‘Mrs’, even though Alix is desperate to call her by her first name.
The story unravels like an onion skin, or maybe a ball of wool. Alix is uncertain in her life with two small children, in a city she doesn’t know very well and excluded from her old life in New York. She feels like a fraud, pretending she still lives in NYC in order to keep up her social media channels and progress her career as a kind of influencer. At the same time, she feels trapped in her life and hires Emira as a babysitter to ostensibly finish her book. On the other hand, Emira is in her mid twenties and watching her friends settle down with careers, houses and jobs and she has none of that security, as she doesn’t really know what she wants. She knows she loves being around the oldest child, Briar, but feels a bit uncomfortable about how Mrs Chamberlain wants to be her best friend.
The themes explored are complex ones – race, class, womenhood and the expectations placed on you from your own version of society. There’s also a strong thread around ensuring that you don’t assume you know about the characters you’re being introduced to.
This book was surprising because I had expected it to be about an arrest, a criminal record, an unjust court trial and in fact, that hook was quickly completed and it moved on to deeper, more complex narrative where all of the characters are well defined and real – I could see myself being at once friends with both of them and neither.
I’d be interested to see more from Kiley Reid, and I recommend this for something a bit thought provoking.