Review by Emily Fuller
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who is so used to getting what she wants that she has built a career in coaching other woman how to achieve the same. Growing comfortable in the hustle of New York City, she transforms her small blog into a small confidence-driven empire. That is, until she begins to fall pregnant with one and then eventually two children, when she is convinced to move to the suburbs to endorse a family-friendly life of modesty. In an effort to sustain her business from a distance, she hires Emira Tucker to babysit her eldest child – a 25 year-old who feels aimless and struggles to seek financial stability in a post-college life. One night when Emira is called in late to babysit Alix’s child, she is stopped at an upmarket supermarket by security. Upon security seeing a black woman hand-in-hand with a white child, Emira is accused of abducting the little girl. Utterly shocked at the blatantly racist treatment and distrust of Emira, Alix becomes consumed with the idea of somehow making it up to her in any way she can.
As one of my first fiction reads for the year, this debut had me absolutely captivated with its level of ease and fluidity in prose, that it took me quite a while to fully appreciate the actual depths the author was guiding me into. Looking at the funky cover along with the instantly compelling writing, you would be half inclined to put this into your light summer reading list – but this novel is so much more than that. Incredibly nuanced and sharp with cleverness, Reid clearly has an intricate understanding of the deeper layers of women and female relationships that is often never penetrated in contemporary fiction.
For me, the overarching strength of this novel is its objective and authentic approach to casual racism. Primarily, this book stands as a heavy critique on the notion of the “white saviour” complex that people of privilege often exert when engaging with people of colour. Reid demonstrates that there is a lot of complexity in these exchanges between white and black people without letting any of her characters fall into those flat, one-dimensional stereotypes of today. Whilst the concept of white guilt and the fetishizing of black culture is not exactly new in the literary scene, she writes with so much nuance in depicting how well-intentioned white people can often infringe upon the lives of black people – which consequently can make things harder for them. What is really interesting in the way that she does approach these racial binaries is the context in which captures her perspective – at the height of “woke culture” where white liberals can use ideas such as “helping” and “endorsing” to still define and control different racial narratives and perspectives.
All cultural and political notions aside, I still very much enjoyed this novel as an exploration of two polarizing ideas of femininity with all their peculiarities, and what occurs when these opposing existences intersect. Of course as a debut novel there are some small flaws, particularly in regards to the conclusion of the book – but I adored Reid’s accessible and riveting style, as well as her acute characterizations and relationship dynamics. It was a book that constantly placed me in the confronting position of considering my own attitudes to my privilege, provoking me to meditate more on where my boundaries should lie with other people.