Come and Get It by Kiley Reid: ARC book review
Thank you to G.P. Putnam for generously sending me an ARC of this book for an advanced review. All thoughts are my own.
Overview: Agatha's life is falling apart, so when she gets an offer to guest lecture for a year at the University of Arkansas, she takes the leap of faith. It's a fresh start and will hopefully offer new inspiration for her next book. Millie is a second time senior after taking a year off to care for her mom and an RA in a dorm few are excited to work in. Unlike her fellow RAs, she cares deeply about her job and saving up money for a house downpayment. Within the dorm, there's one suite that stands out. Kennedy has transferred to Arkansas after things went horribly wrong at her Iowa school, and she struggles to adjust. Tyler is a social butterfly with a typical mean streak, and Payton only wants the dishes out of the communal sink by morning. While seemingly unrelated, all of their lives intertwine to somewhat devastating effect. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 We spend the first part of the book getting to know the major players within their own lives. You'll spend a little time while wondering what all these people have to do with one another, but if you can be patient, the payoff is great. Told in third person, the book mainly focuses on Agatha, Millie, and Kennedy's points of view with Tyler, her friends Casey and Jenna, and Payton getting filled in by their interactions with the other girls and Agatha's spying or "research". This ends up being a very effective way to tell the story because each POV character has such a unique perspective.
The specifics of the characters are where the richness of the book comes from, and I don't want to diminish that experience, so I'm just going to speak on it broadly. Reid excels in getting us to understand and empathize with the motivations and actions of each character when we're looking through their eyes but then does a fantastic job of flipping the perspective around and allowing you to see the flaws that exist within each character. Even the ones that seem angled as characters we're not supposed to like have a real humanity that still pulls at your heartstrings. The development here is remarkable, and they play off each other so well.
Plot: 5 It's hard to talk about what this book is about except for summarizing it as a bunch of confused, lost people at one small town college. There's definitely a major moment at the end where tension is ratcheted up to a ten and all the tiny bad choices pile on top of each other to spell disaster. It's satisfying to watch all of the small moments from earlier in the book collide and bring all these seemingly separate characters together, but it definitely takes patience and investment in the individual characters themselves to get there. I read it in two days, though, so it's definitely interesting and will grab your attention if you trust that Reid is going somewhere.
The payoff of the book is remarkable and somewhat haunting, though. At its core, Come and Get It is about how we all make choices that seem tiny and inconsequential on our end. A note quickly dashed off, an easy dismissal that doesn't get a single thought, the wrong moment to finally decide to chill out. You might not know the consequences immediately or ever, but your small choices can have massive repercussions in others lives. We see those cause and effects ripple through this small community.
Writing: 5 I was already a huge fan of Kiley Reid from Such a Fun Age, and this book did not disappoint. I actually think I liked it a little more. Reid ups the complexity and sets more plates spinning in the air to bring together in the end than in Such a Fun Age that primarily focuses on two characters. There is plenty of connective tissue, though, between the books in themes handling privilege, class, racism, and the question around inappropriate age and power dynamics, but they manifest in a completely unique way in Come and Get It. Reid packs a lot into these pages without ever weighing down the prose, and it comes together to create a truly breathtaking final image.
On a quick final note on the ending, this isn't a direct spoiler but could maybe be viewed that way, I really like the balance that Reid found. There are consequences and things fall apart, but there is a lingering note of hope and possibility there as well. There's a pathway for these characters to get back to what they really want, and they're not left stripped of everything they've worked for, which is a place that too many literary fiction books like to leave their messy cast.
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