It’s always fun to read books that take you back to your formative years. Kiley Reid’s sophomore novel, “Come & Get It,” is set in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at the state university, where senior Millie Cousins works as a resident assistant.
Millie is a young woman with a plan. Born in nearby Missouri, she took a gap year after high school to work in Fayetteville and qualify for in-state tuition. She then missed another year while caring for her ailing mother. She’s majoring in hospitality with a minor in Spanish and at the ripe old age of 24, she’s already saving to buy a house. When we first meet her coordinating move-in day, Reid gives us this description: “She had rosy brown skin, a pear-shaped-form and an expanse of dark wavy hair... From the neck down, she looked like an adult poking fun at campus life, someone dressing like an RA for Halloween.”
Costumed or no, Millie’s an excellent RA. Efficient, empathetic, and understanding — at least when we first meet her. Enter Agatha Paul, a visiting writing professor, who meets Millie while looking for students to talk to for a book she’s researching about shifting generational attitudes toward weddings. It’s those conversations that really kick off the crux of the novel — the more Agatha talks to the young women, and to Millie, the more fascinated she becomes by their lives. When she starts hanging out more in Millie’s dorm, taking advantage of the thin walls to hear the collegiate dramas playing out in an adjacent suite, the plot kicks into high gear. Millie starts to see Agatha as more than a professor and Agatha starts to publish snippets about students in Teen Vogue and things get really messy.
Reid has a knack for descriptive phrases as we get to know all these characters. Here’s Resident Director Josh, who Millie crushes on a bit: “His arms made him look like the ideal person to find and ask to open a jar of anything.” And Peyton, one of the students in the dorm Millie oversees: “Peyton was boxy, a fact not helped by what looked to be an ill-fitting bra beneath her sweatshirt. … Her dark brown hair … lay on her hood like a paintbrush that needed to be soaked.”
Despite that gossipy setup, Reid creates a story with real weight. Her ear for dialogue — honed, no doubt, by the dozens of actual interviews she conducted with college students for this book — is finely tuned. It feels like you’re reading great gossip, but the characters come across as genuine, with real problems. “Come and Get It” is a fun, propulsive read that puts readers in a world most of them will have long since graduated from, but which provides an ideal window to explore deeper themes — from relationships to class and privilege to racism.
AP book reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/book-reviews