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Book Review: “Privilege”


Mary Adkins

Hardcover, 368 pages

Publication Date:  March 10, 2020

Publisher: Harper

Genre: Contemporary fiction

“Privilege” is a college novel. All of the main characters are in their late teens or early 20s, which would make this a “new adult” book if that had ever stuck around as a genre. I have not come across many college student-centered books in my time reading, so “Privilege” stood out to me among this month’s new releases.

Mary Adkins divides her book up into three different points of view. We meet Annie, a sophomore breaking out of her shell; Bea, a freshman trying to make a difference in the world of justice; and Stayja, who wants to finish nursing school but is stuck working at the campus coffee shop until she can put together enough money for tuition.

Odds would be slim these three would ever meet, but when Annie brings a sexual assault charge against another student, the other two are drawn into the situation as well. Bea is a student advocate for the student Annie has accused of assault, while Stayja sees the situation unfold from a much different perspective.

I think Adkins wrote “Privilege” for the right reasons. Sexual assault is horribly common on college campuses, but it often feels like a problem people want swept under the rug. Through “Privilege,” I got the idea Adkins was looking to explore the issues college students face and inform the world of how situations like this happen.

The problem is I think “Privilege” tried to tackle too many issues at once. It touches on rape, race, class, gender, institutional cover-ups, student-teacher relationships and more. Because it tries to take everything on at once, only one or two of these problems are ever actually fleshed out in the book. Many subplots are started and then end up going nowhere or are solved quickly and with no repercussions.

Additionally, choosing to have three alternating points of view is an ambitious move, and while Adkins is able to make each protagonist feel different, I never got to spend enough time with any one of them to form an emotional attachment. The chapters jump around in time as well, and dates are listed at the beginning of each one to help you keep track of what is happening when, but that ended up confusing me more than anything.

And at 368 pages, “Privilege” feels like a long book. I think it could have been cut down considerably and presented a cleaner, leaner story which still would have gotten the point across. All this is a long way of saying I think it could have been better. I was interested in how the story would turn out, but it was hard to care about the characters. I felt like I had to talk myself into reading it, which is not a good sign.

If you want a book which looks at the often harmful ways colleges operate, “Privilege” might be for you. The messages get lost in its length and pacing, however, so keep that in mind if you decide to pick it up.

Paige Holmes is a senior journalism major from Topeka, KS. Reading is her favorite thing to do because it teaches one how to think, imagine and live. Paige believes there is no better way to learn something or be entertained than by reading a book. Her favorite genre of books is fantasy/thriller and her favorite book is ‘Opening Moves’ by Steven James.

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