Monday, March 16, 2020

Showcase: Privilege by Mary Adkins

Privilege is a timely novel about gender and class on a college campus.

Publisher: Harper Collins

Release Date: 3-10-2020



From the beloved author of When You Read This, a smart, sharply observed novel about gender and class on a contemporary Southern college campus in the spirit of The Female Persuasion and Prep.

Carter University: “The Harvard of the South.”

Annie Stoddard was the smartest girl in her small public high school in Georgia, but now that she’s at Carter, it feels like she’s got “Scholarship Student” written on her forehead.

Bea Powers put aside misgivings about attending college in the South as a biracial student to take part in Carter’s Justice Scholars program. But even within that rarefied circle of people trying to change the world, it seems everyone has a different idea of what justice is.

Stayja York goes to Carter every day, too, but she isn’t a student. She works at the Coffee Bean, doling out almond milk lattes to entitled co-eds, while trying to put out fires on the home front and save for her own education.

Their three lives intersect unexpectedly when Annie accuses fourth-year student Tyler Brand of sexual assault. Once Bea is assigned as Tyler’s student advocate, the girls find themselves on opposite sides as battle lines are drawn across the picture-perfect campus—and Stayja finds herself invested in the case’s outcome, too.

Told through the viewpoints of Annie, Bea, and Stayja, Privilege is a bracingly clear-eyed look at today’s campus politics, and a riveting story of three young women making their way in a world not built for them.

Read an excerpt:

The Carter Chronicle
Thursday, August 24
Welcome to Carter! 10 Pieces of Advice for First-years
by the Irreverent Rooster
Cock-a-doodle-doo! It’s O-weeka in these parts, and campus is filled with brand spankin’ new Roosters arriving en masse, unloading Teslas,b Priuses,c and Dodges.d
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the Irreverent Rooster.
Today on tap: my top 10 pieces of advice to make the most out of your first year at this wondrous institution.
1.             Read my column.
2.             Don’t bother trying to figure out who I am. I am all of us and none of us.
3.             Really, anything to do with me is probably a good idea.
4.             The Rooster serves decent coffee, but stay away from the croissants.e
5.    As we know, this campus is adorned with many gargoyles. Be sure to look up next time you pass the entrance to Stoling.f When you do, you will notice a set of gargoyles perched above it. These are—unmistakably—recent additions.
6.    Scream in horror.
7.    Nope, you are not hallucinating. These are real, and, yes, they are gargoyles with real human faces.
8.    Who are these people/gargoyles? These sapien-goyles? These garg-hominums?
9.    Why on earth are they in modern clothing? What are they doing hanging over the entrance to a building? What was this column about again?
10. Mojito, at the intersection of Beech and Smith streets off South Campus, has the best tacos—and you’re only likely to get trampled by a Big Bossg if it’s after 1 a.m.
Welcome to Carter, where the fraternities still rule, the gargoyles still mutate, and I’ll be here every week to make fun of all of it.h
Signing off,
Your Anonymous Humor Columnist
a. O-WEEK: Orientation week; get your mind out of the gutter.
b. TESLA: Driven by your parents, who are more successful than you will ever be.
c. PRIUS: Driven by your parents, who, wishing they were more successful than you will ever be, have settled for dumping epic pressure on you.
d. DODGE: Driven by your parents, who filled out a FAFSA.
e. CROISSANTS FROM THE ROOSTER: Stale as Professor Henrick’s adherence to the rational choice theory of economics.
f. STOLING: New dorm being constructed on main west quad because Carter loves to find ways to spend rich donors’ money.
g. BIG BOSS: Frat guy in boat shoes and madras shorts who grew up in Manhattan and summers with the Kennedy heirs. Pastimes: keg stands and light rape.
h. IT: You. To make fun of you.


My story of Tyler Brand begins the day I met him, the first week of my second fall at Carter. I have a vivid memory of that day, no doubt in part because my senses were heightened by the fresh air on my legs, the jolt of exposing my scarred flesh for the first time in years.
About my legs—my saving grace, or they were supposed to be. “I prayed for you to get your dad’s legs, and you did,” my mom told me repeatedly, as if she’d forgotten she’d already said it. I was told I’d be a runner, that I perhaps would be very tall, a basketball player or a supermodel. I was told I’d grow into them, that they’d drive boys crazy, that I would one day be able to pull 
off all kinds of shoes, not just universally flattering styles and heel heights.
And then, just as I was growing into them, they got fried. The summer after eighth grade I was sitting in our backyard when the grill tipped over and the blanket beneath me caught fire. Three square feet of tissue—two and a half from a donor and six inches from my own left butt cheek—were grafted onto my left calf and shin, my right knee and inner thigh.
After the chaos and panic subsided, I was slow to grasp how changed I was in others’ eyes. At first, their sadness confused me. Didn’t they understand that the bad part was over? I’d survived being on fire.
My toes, hands, breasts—I’d grasped before the accident that these were subpar. Scars, I’d thought, were different—they weren’t a part of me. They were more like an accessory, only unflattering; you may not like someone’s earrings, but you wouldn’t call her ugly for wearing them. My scars hadn’t been generated by my body; they were acquired from without, my backyard mishap’s I WAS HERE.
When they didn’t disappear or even fade, however, and when they, in fact, darkened and hardened, their tough and reddened permanence allowing me ample time to observe and learn, I discovered that they were nothing like earrings or stamps. Gasps, 
grimaces, slack jaws—these were the reactions my legs drew, the ones that were supposed to score baskets and drive boys mad. Jeans became the only bottom I’d wear. Parties, summers at the pool and beach, graduation—I even wore my jeans to church on Sundays after threatening to become an atheist if my mom insisted on a dress.
When I googled “how to live with burn scars,” the Internet told me to learn to make burn jokes. Instead, I adopted what would become my strategy for the next seven years: I didn’t acknowledge that I had legs. From the waist down, I might as well not have existed.
My hometown of Pineville makes “small” sound like an overstatement. We have a Red Lobster, a desolate shopping mall, and a couple of crumbling churches dubbed historic landmarks by the state of Georgia. My county’s nickname—on a sign as you enter on Highway 280—is “Almost gone but not forgotten.” There were forty-five people in my graduating high school class, six of them with the last name Cooper.
But even small towns have their social pressures. What I didn’t realize as a teenager was that my scars were a mixed blessing. Being so visibly flawed freed me to an extent from believing my looks could be my salvation. Excluded from the category of “pretty girl,” I was permitted to make the case for my 
personhood in other ways. I took up bassoon. I won contests in the city, then in the state. I was flown to Washington, DC, to play for the president with other high school kids as part of the National Youth Orchestra. Annie Stoddard, bassoonist, burn victim, denim obsessed. That my body was invisible at best and hideous at worst spared me in a way. I watched friends starve, purge, cut themselves, cry over low Insta likes. But not me. Why bother when no one is watching? Blessed are the plain.
AND THEN THE impossible happened. I got into Carter.
Carter had been a fantasy ever since National Youth Orchestra camp. The first flute, president of her private school senior class in Michigan, told me she planned to go there like her older sister, whose college friends were so smart even their parents didn’t know what they were talking about when they came home and debated around the dinner table. Although it was only two states away, in North Carolina, not a single person from my high school had ever matriculated there, per my guidance counselor, Ms. Flo. When I’d told her I planned to apply, she’d raised an eyebrow.
“Wanna maybe focus on UGA? You could probably get into the honors college,” she slurred (we were pretty sure she was al
ways drunk), sipping from the lipstick-stained straw in the bottomless, twenty-four-ounce travel mug she never put down.
But Ms. Flo underestimated the value of being a bassoonist in a world of cellists and violinists. Not only was I admitted to Carter, I was even offered a scholarship—three-quarters tuition. My parents, who had emptied my college fund for an emergency gallbladder operation for my brother a year earlier, both cried.
“But how will we afford the rest of the tuition? And room and board?” I asked, flipping over the letter as if there were more money hiding on the back.
“We’ll figure it out,” my dad said, reaching proudly for the letter, although he’d already read it. (He would, by Christmas, begin five years of weekends tutoring SAT—six hours on Saturdays and three on Sundays—to cover the remaining eighteen thousand annually so as not to saddle me with student loan debt.)
Word spread quickly through my high school. Younger students I’d only known in passing stopped me in the hall to offer their congratulations.
“That’s Annie Stoddard. She got into Carter,” my calculus teacher told the new AP Bio teacher in the hall between third and fourth periods.
“Girl, you must be wildly smart!” he said and winked. I repeated it under my breath the rest of the day, liking the way that 
the word wildly felt on my tongue. I’d sailed through high school making easy As, but I’d never entertained the idea of being especially “smart” in any world bigger than Pineville High.
The week before graduation, my twelfth-grade English teacher, Mr. Royles, sheepishly handed me an article he’d clearly printed from the Internet entitled FORTY MUST-READ CLASSICS. “Here’s what you should have read in high school,” he said. Over the summer I made my way through four of them: The Great Gatsby, The Remains of the Day, Mrs. Dalloway, and Moby-Dick, the last of which took all of August. Finishing it made me as proud as I’d ever been of anything.
My first year at Carter, my life consisted of classes, orchestra rehearsal, and my work-study job at the campus bookstore. Some of the orchestra kids hung out on weekends, but I didn’t join them. When I wasn’t studying, I was with my best friend, Matty, and my roommate, Samantha, the first person I ever heard describe herself as being “from the Bay Area.” We spent Saturday nights watching documentaries that introduced me to the nuances of white supremacy, the most endangered victims of climate change, and capitalism’s dark underbelly. No moment of my time at Carter was unchallenging. By May I felt changed, fundamentally unlike the Annie who’d proudly completed Moby-Dick the previous August. I’d joined the Campus Progressives; I’d been to 
my first protest; I’d swapped my English major for psychology, having realized Mr. Royles had, in fact, understated my ill-preparedness for college lit coursework; I was by far the least read in my lit class, while my Psych 101 professor had drenched my papers in praise. Whether I was particularly interested in the subject didn’t seem all that relevant.
I would study endless hours in the dorm’s reading room, watching through the window as other students tossed footballs or lay gossiping in the sun. I wanted to be like them but didn’t know how. What I knew how to do was hunker down; what I knew how to do was to cover up and stay inside. I was making As, and I was lonely. Even at Carter, just as at Pineville High, I was the smart girl with burns.
Then, one afternoon in late February, my orchestra conductor told me that a local parent was in search of someone to teach her son bassoon, and she was offering sixty-five dollars an hour—an outrageous sum to me. What’s more, little Danny Yeager’s parents wanted me to meet with him three times a week. The dutiful twelve-year-old didn’t miss a single lesson. By late May, when I returned home for the summer after finals, I had made over two thousand dollars.
There was no question what I wanted to do with it.

The dermatologist in Atlanta recommended a series of pulsed-dye laser treatments over the course of the summer, assuring me that we could schedule them so that come fall, my legs would look better. My summer job as a nanny for a newborn meant I spent most of the day sitting around in someone else’s house anyway.
“We can’t improve the scars 100 percent,” he said, “but 70 percent isn’t out of the question.” Treatment of the magnitude I required cost over ten thousand dollars, but miraculously he offered to write off 80 percent, given that the lasers were a new model, and thus I was going to be a before-and-after model, which terrified me a little, but he promised not to show my face or use my name. I was able to pay the two grand out of pocket from my bassoon money.
I lay on the paper-wrapped table as the lasers pricked their way along the edges of my skin grafts, sounding like the snapping of rubber bands. After a cluster of snaps, an intern in a white jacket would lift a hose and spray my skin with a burst of cold air. You’d think the smell of flesh burning might have raised memories of the accident, but it didn’t. This time on the medical cot, I felt like a superhero being outfitted for her uniform.
The total process involved three treatments, spaced three weeks apart. Altogether it took twelve weeks, including the re
covery periods, during which time the new wounds created by the lasers evolved from worse to better. With each round my legs were looking more normal than they had in years.
My parents were embarrassingly supportive. The day before I left to return to school, my mom and I were at the mall shopping for fall clothes. I was lighter—peach and gauzy in the places where before I’d been red and ropey; where shades of purple had jutted angrily from my flesh, smoothed patches of pink were stitched with a scarlet I could live with.
Walking along the clearance rack, I picked up things I wouldn’t normally choose: a short dress, two pairs of shorts, and, on a lark, a turquoise leather miniskirt. I wasn’t yet the girl who would wear a leather miniskirt, but I could see that I might be someday.
When she caught sight of the garments I’d pulled, my mother (a veteran coupon clipper who asked for a doggie bag at a restaurant if she had four green beans left on her plate) took them from my arms with a smile.
“I haven’t tried them on yet!” I called after her as she made her way to the register, but she ignored me, handing the cashier her credit card before the woman had even scanned any tags. “You can try them on at home,” she said.
We were both so full of hope as that summer drew to a close.
ON THAT FIRST Friday of the year, I stood in the closet of my gothic dorm room on the campus main quad, solely mine now that my first-year roommate, Samantha, had transferred to Stanford in mid-August, taking her violin and gum-chewing addiction and late-night computer glow with her. She’d never liked Carter; for her, a West Coast daughter of filmmakers, Carter was as confining as a straitjacket, and so, before even showing up for sophomore year, she’d abruptly changed plans. Room assignments having already been made, this left me with a coveted single room on Main Campus.
A gold mine.
“The luck of this!” my remaining friend, Matty, shrieked, throwing himself onto my bed. “I mean, of course, we’ll miss Samantha, blah blah, but will we? You have a single. For free.”
“Definitely not for free,” I said from the closet.
“Fair,” he called back.
Before me were mostly jeans and tanks, but under them, just next to my bassoon, was the shelf where I’d laid my new clothes: the sundress, the leather mini, and the pairs of still-tagged shorts.
I stripped off my black jogging pants and pulled on a pair of the shorts, ripping off the tag as I did, which felt like a new tier of commitment even though their return-by date had passed. I wrapped a dry towel around my torso and stepped into the room.

From my bed, leaning against the wall, Matty looked up from his laptop.
“What do you think?” I asked. I never asked Matty for fashion advice—that wasn’t our dynamic. He asked me for fashion advice sometimes—especially when he would rope me into going with him to gay clubs our first year. But I had my uniform since I’d known him. On my end, there had been nothing to discuss.
“You should probably wear a shirt,” he said.
I didn’t take the bait. I turned away from him to face my full-length mirror. There were my legs.
“If you mean the shorts,” Matty finally said—it was clear in his voice he’d known exactly what I’d meant—“I think it’s about time you dressed for the weather. It’s August in North Carolina. It only took you a year to figure that out.”
I didn’t move. He caught my eye in the mirror.
“You can do it,” he said.
That was how it began.


“This thoughtful and engrossing novel will likely encourage genuine, heartfelt dialog among readers. Highly recommended.”- Library Journal (starred review)

“Adkins' writing provides a multifaceted portrayal of campus life and politics in the #MeToo era. . . . A timely and resonant novel."
- Kirkus Reviews on Privilege

“A gripping novel. . . . Adkins allows readers to take in all sides and perspectives, provoking much thought, and explores the university's failure to protect students from privilege of many forms."- Booklist

“Fans of Where'd You Go, Bernadette will love this. . . a bittersweet, often funny novel about hope, memory, and loose ends.”
- Real Simple, “The Best Books of 2019” on When You Read This

“It’s a risk to write a hilarious novel about grief and regret. It’s a bigger risk to tell the story solely through virtual communication. Mary Adkins succeeds on both fronts in this epistolary novel . . . . A story of flawed people who have connected under the worst of circumstances. It’s a quick, worthwhile read.”- Minneapolis Star Tribune on When You Read This

About the author:
Mary Adkins is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Atlantic. A native of the American South and a graduate of Duke University and Yale Law School, she lives in New York City with her family. She also teaches storytelling for The Moth.


  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention Debbie and hope you and yours are well, safe, and healthy!!

    1. Thanks Ali we're trying to stay home as much as possible. You take care

  2. Interesting! Thanks for sharing Debbie. Be safe.

  3. Well it sure has a really interesting premise Debbie and I'd read it for sure.

  4. This sounds interesting! I enjoy stories on socioeconomic issues like gender and class. Thanks for sharing :)

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape