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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Fundukian

Book Review: Come and Get It by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid, author of the sensation Such a Fun Age from a few years ago, is back with her new novel, Come and Get It. She is definitely on the rise, as this book was chosen for the Good Morning America book club, and she now is a Michigan author, having moved here to teach at the University of Michigan. NPR affiliate Michigan Public (just rebranded from Michigan Radio) recently hosted their book club with the novel as its pick, and I was lucky enough to attend, hear the author read, and participate in small-group discussions where she joined in. It was such a pleasure to be able to ask some questions and hear her insights on character and story.

Reid is already known as a master of messy, real stories that hint--and sometimes shout--about money, class, and race and how they intersect with our social interactions. This time, the setting is the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where Reid formerly lived and worked and which she calls one of her favorite American cities (if not her all-time fave).


24-year-old Millie Cousins, who is Black, is back at school after taking a break to be with her sick mother and has returned to her Resident Assistant job in what is known as the least-desirable dorm. She takes her job very seriously, at least at first. But things start to unravel. Millie has been preparing for her future and has meticulously planned and saved to buy her own house while still an undergrad. Despite the dorm’s lack of popularity, there are plenty of young female residents with access to money, including the only other Black woman on the floor (who is not interested in a friendship with Millie, dispelling any myth that they must “stick together.”)


One of the disrupters of Millie’s focused life is Agatha Paul, a visiting professor and writer who is on a one-year contract after escaping her life with her inconsistent dancer girlfriend-turned-wife of convenience and is focusing on teaching and writing. She meets Millie when a few of the students in Millie’s dorm respond to Agatha’s call for students who want to be interviewed for her new project about weddings and money. But during the interviews, Agatha gathers more than she bargained for and quickly abandons the notion of writing about weddings, focusing instead on an unexpected study of characters. She also abandons the appropriate nature of her relationship with Millie.


As research for the novel, Reid actually did interview 30 college students--some of whom were privileged southern college girls, and some of whom were not--and used a few direct quotes from them. One standout is the young woman who received a “practice paycheck” from her dad’s business for years (legal?); another is the collegiate baton-twirler who inspired the character of Kennedy in the novel, who was the golden girl at another university until one morally bad decision turns her into a pariah and she transfers to Arkansas. Reid’s personal experience of being an RA herself in college also informs this novel and offers up some authenticity.


Speaking of quick bad decisions that derail characters’ paths, this novel is full of them. Millie was on the straight-and-narrow and obsessed with buying a house the old-fashioned way, by working hard and saving, until…. Agatha is a respected researcher who cites her sources, until…. Some readers may judge these characters harshly, but Reid weaves it all together with a sophistication that helps illustrate that we are all “this close” to doing the same (myself included) given a complicated situation.


Money is definitely a character in this novel, and Target even shows up as a minor character, with Reid interjecting some social commentary on our need for stuff and how collecting it can be both a comfort and a problem. Agatha, in her life before her year in Arkansas, was also in a relationship with an artist who was talented but terribly flighty with expenses, which didn’t help their relationship. Money, money, money….


Speaking of characters, some of them do not turn out to be who we thought they were at the beginning--such as Tyler, who turns out to have more layers than anyone gave her credit for. The heroes aren’t who they seem, either. One small action and outcome can change who they--or we--thought they were. All in all, this is a fascinating novel about dorm life, money, and how they affect our relationships and behavior. Fun fact: Reid wanted to title her novel Suey, also spelled “sooie”--a call used both by farmers calling hogs and fans of the school’s athletics teams, the Arkansas Razorbacks, also known as the Hogs--and there is a pig on the cover, but her publishers wouldn’t go for it and the compromise was Come and Get It. One can’t help but see humans in that call, responding to the lure of money.

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