It’s not often that I read two 5 star books back to back but I recently had that wonderful experience thanks to some great recommendations from my coworkers with whom I’ve recently founded a virtual book club. These two books are probably in my top five favorites of the entire YEAR and I’m definitely going to be purchasing copies of both!Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
on December 31, 2019
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 320 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
I went into Such a Fun Age thinking it was going to focus mostly on the “incident” mentioned in the synopsis, but was was surprised to find that it was really just a catalyst for a novel that seems quick and straightforward on the surface but makes some really important social commentary the longer you sit and digest it. There was obviously the important commentary on race, stereotyping and the fine line between being a white ally vs. centering yourself in the struggle of someone else in the journey to be supportive, which was really well done and portrayed through multiple different characters and angles (not just through Alix and Emira’s relationship but with Kelly, with the media, with her part-time job, etc). Yet I also found this book to be a critique of influencer culture, and how there can be a blurry line between seeking to empowering other women (which is what Alix’s platform is based around) but also setting unattainable standards for them by emphasizing only the positive parts of your life through social media (an extremely timely topic in today’s world).
Another element that really stuck with me from this story was the relationship triangle between Alix, Emira and Briar, Alix’s toddler age daughter who she hires Emira to babysit for in the first place. Briar is often described as being nervous, chatty, and always on the verge of a tiny, toddler existential crisis. Emira is very attached to her and her quirks while Alix seems exhausted by them, especially when compared to her “perfect” younger daughter who resembles her, sleeps easily, stays quiet and calm, etc. Not only did it bring up the whole aspect of what happens when parents preference one child over another, however I thought it also touched (or at least alluded to) deeper themes surrounding parenting children with anxiety and perhaps digging into why children have that anxiety, and if Briar was in fact suffering due to her mother’s prominence as an influencer, as she was obviously picking up on Alix’s stress, her constant needs to put on a facade that she clearly knew she didn’t fit into neatly, her mother’s tension with Emira, etc. It’s really fascinating yet subtle at the same time.
Emira herself was a character that I found to be refreshing, and that I think will resonate with a lot of readers- she’s approaching 26, stressing about getting kicked off her parent’s health insurance (an all too prevalent problem in the US) and while she’s juxtaposed with all of these characters with such big dreams or paths (Alix as an influencer, her friends who range from academics to nurses to aspiring marketing executives, etc) she is noted as not particularly liking anything but not disliking anything either- she’s just an average person trying to find her way in life and does not want to attract a ton of attention, or have a super defined plan, which goes against the grain of our self-absorbed, social media addicted society where it’s a rat race to constantly post update after update showcasing our achievements.
Overall: Such a Fun Age is a story I flew through yet one that will stick with me for a long time. The writing is simple yet riveting, the messages layered and subtle. I hope to read more stories like this!
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Published by Doubleday on June 25, 2019
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 544 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'.
As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt--given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before--we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.
Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo's debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family's becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.
This was my work book club’s pick for the month of October and I honestly went into it pretty blind without expectations- and I ended up totally and completely absorbed! The story follows the Sorensen family, made up of two parents, four daughters, and various other surprise relatives, and starts with the parent’s courtship all the way through the girls’ adulthood, with a non-linear timeline format that allows you to learn bits and pieces about each character over the course of the novel, making you feel as though they’re real people you are slowly developing a relationship with.
I adored the family dynamics, from the sisters’ tumultuous relationships to the parents and their infamous romance. I enjoyed how each sister seemed to feel that the others had their lives together while they were floundering. I appreciated seeing how they each had a very different relationship with their parents, and it was fascinating to see how two people could produce such different children! My favorite POVs were probably that of Wendy and Jonah, though there were pockets of everyone’s stories that I enjoyed (and Wyatt, perhaps the cutest toddler in all of literary history, my HEART). I also liked the running thread of the Gingko tree, and how it was silently in the background, playing a part in every generation.
Overall: The Most Fun We Ever Had is a multi-generational tale that I can easily picture myself returning to again and again!