Reid’s debut novel definitely got a lot of advance press. Everyone was buzzing about it. For the most part, everything that I read highlighted the same plot point: The young black babysitter of a white little girl is detained and interrogated in a grocery store by a security guard because what-on-earth-would-a-little-white-girl-be-doing-under-the-care-of-a-black-woman-dressed-in-night club-attire-at-that-hour. Is the book about this incident? Yes, in part, but it is just an unfortunately recognizable incident that becomes a gateway to so much more.
Emira is a bit adrift after graduating from college. Her friends have already started advancing in their careers while she is working two part time jobs and living month to month. As her 25th birthday approaches along with the looming loss of her parents’ medical insurance coverage, she begins to worry a little about her future. From a family of people who all found a certain and perfect “calling,” Emira wonders if she will ever find hers.
One of Emira’s employers, the Chamberlain family, have hired her to watch their older daughter, three year-old Briar, several days a week. Briar’s father, Peter, is a television news anchor and her mother, Alix, has created her own successful motivational “brand” promoting female empowerment. Alix dotes on her infant daughter but Briar, however, is an enigma to her. Smart, articulate and curious, Briar looks at the world a little differently than her mother would like. Her inquisitiveness is mistaken for awkwardness; her curiosity for rudeness.
There is and will be a lot of warranted discussion about how Reid masterfully sends up white privilege and liberal guilt in this novel. I don’t need to add my voice to that discussion. For me, the beating heart of this book is what happens between Emira and Briar. Their relationship is exquisite. As both of them struggle with the expectations of others, they find a comfortable place of acceptance with each other. Emira takes Briar as she is; ever patient with her constant stream of questions. While Emira’s friends, family and boyfriend all push her to find a career path, Briar demands nothing more from her the attention and recognition that she doesn’t receive from her own mother.
Honestly, a lot of this novel is about identity. How we define ourselves and how others try to define us. How some people choose to craft their own narrative whether or not it is a truthful one. How, sometimes, we meet someone who can see us as we are when we need them to.