Kiley Reid’s juicy campus novel tackles college students, money and responsibility

Nerdette Book Club’s selection for February is “Come and Get It.”

Image of book cover and its author
"Come and Get It" by Kiley Reid is Nerdette's Book Club pick for February. Photos courtesy of David Goddard (Reid) and G.P. Putnam’s Sons (cover)
Image of book cover and its author
"Come and Get It" by Kiley Reid is Nerdette's Book Club pick for February. Photos courtesy of David Goddard (Reid) and G.P. Putnam’s Sons (cover)

Kiley Reid’s juicy campus novel tackles college students, money and responsibility

Nerdette Book Club’s selection for February is “Come and Get It.”

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🎧 Click on the red listen button to hear Nerdette’s full conversation with Kiley Reid.

Our February selection is Kiley Reid’s second novel, Come and Get It. Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age, was a salacious, fizzy novel about the messy power dynamics of work and life, and her second book is no different. This one is set on the campus of the University of Arkansas, and the multiperspective book revolves around Millie, a fifth-year senior saving up to buy a house in town.

As a resident assistant on campus, Millie oversees students in their shared living spaces, and she becomes particularly entangled with the three girls living in the rooms right next to her. Speaking of entanglements, there’s also Agatha, a visiting professor who has come to campus to write a book about students and money.

The first Tuesday of each month, Nerdette host Greta Johnsen has a conversation with the author of that month’s Book Club pick. Then Book Club returns on the last Tuesday with a spoiler-filled panel discussion. Here’s an excerpt from the February conversation with Reid, condensed and edited for clarity.

Nerdette: How did you think about money in your 20s?

Oh, man, I saved all of it. I had lots of jobs. I worked at Godiva chocolates in the mall, both in Arizona and in New York. And then when I was a junior and senior in college, I was nannying 20 hours a week. And just saving, saving. And sure, saving is good, but I kind of wish I’d had a little bit more fun. Like, there are items of clothing that I didn’t buy and I still think about them. I’m like, ‘Oh, who would I have been if I had gotten that.’ I was just a little bit too afraid to spend anything.

It is really interesting to think about what could happen if we were all more open about money.

I wonder that, too. Being raised to not talk about money, or people who feel very comfortable about it, I don’t think that there’s a right or wrong way to approach living within a class society. Like I completely understand when people don’t want to talk about money because they’ve been raised that way. Or they feel it’s impolite or they’re being nosy or it’s gauche, for whatever reason, it is. But I do think that talking about money shapes the world in a really interesting way. On a really superficial level. If you have friends who are in the same job market that you’re in, knowing what they’re getting paid will help you negotiate for more. And also make sure that jobs are paying people what they should be paid. If you’re paying a ton of rent and realizing it’s way too high or too low, it might be good to know what other people are being paid as well.

The biggest thing, though, is that we — in speaking about money and feeling like you can’t do it — I think that there’s a connection between the money you’re getting and who you are as a person. And those things are completely irrelevant. Like, the problem is never you making more than your friends. It’s that there’s inequality, and you can make significantly more than your friends for working just as hard. So I think that talking about numbers, in that sense, does take away some of the connection between your value as a person and like, your monetary value as a person. And I also just think it’s super interesting to know exactly how much, all the time.

You interviewed college students as part of your research writing this novel. What stuck with you from those conversations?

I interviewed a lot of different people from RAs to Starbucks managers to students that I had in my classes when they weren’t my students any longer. For this novel, in particular, I did not want to satirize young people. I wanted to just portray them in the way that they are.

When you are transcribing something, people never really speak chronologically. They go off and on, and they say like, and, um, and they have little, you know, verbal asides. So it was a challenge to portray young people with accuracy and also at the top of their intelligence. And so it just became a balance of making sure that my characters worked in the book the same way that they do in real life, which is saying something really clever and bright one moment and something absolutely bananas on the next page.

There were certain things that just went straight into the novel. A young woman did tell me that she got paid from her dad’s dental office, but she didn’t do anything. And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘He gives us, like, a practice paycheck, even though we don’t do anything.’ And I said, ‘I’m so sorry, but I feel like, is that fraud? Because it sounds like fraud.’ She was like, totally, totally fraudulent.

It does, that’s deeply fraudulent!

So that did go straight into the novel. I would protect their identities at all costs, because they were so generous with me. And I’m really just appreciative that they told me smart, wonderful, terrible things all at the same time.

So I mentioned your first book, Such a Fun Age. It was a Nerdette Book Club pick in 2020. I’m curious how you see Come and Get It being in conversation with that one.

It’s funny because when I was writing Come and Get It, I did not focus on this connection, but I definitely have a penchant for odd caretaker jobs. So Amira [a young Black character from Reid’s debut who works as a nanny for an affluent white woman] has a more traditional job as a domestic worker. Millie has a job as, like, a strange caregiver to these young women in a dorm.

I think more importantly, I’m interested in jobs that are seen as temporary and gateway to your more “official” job. I’m putting quotes on that, where it’s young people who are always on call who are working super hard and getting paid really menially. I’m super interested in dialogue, I think that you can see that in both Such a Fun Age and in this one … I’m not trying to make anyone feel uncomfortable ever, but it’s a desire of mine to depict something so accurately that you almost have to step away from it because you recognize it too much, because that’s what I love to read as well.

And personally, I want to do something different a little bit every time. And hopefully, next I do something different as well.

Greta Johnsen hosts and produces WBEZ’s Nerdette podcast, which Anna Bauman produces.