Review – Great
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  • Posted:
  • July 26, 2013

Great

Great is a 2014 Young Adult release by Sara Benincasa. It is a contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. While I am far from an ardent fan of the original story I was curious to see what could be done with it in a modern setting. I’m very pleased with this adaptation. It was a fantastic one-sitting read.

17-year-old Naomi Rye is the daughter of a baked goods mogul Anne Rye(!). Normally she lives with her father in Chicago but she is spending her summer with her mother in the Hamptons. Naomi is determined to study for the SATs but her mother has other plans for her and encourages and berates her to widen her limited social circle. Being a social climber herself Anne points Naomi in the direction of Delilah Fairweather, a daughter of her own acquaintance. Delilah is dating Teddy, a former child actor who is seeing another girl on the side; Misti. And through the group Naomi meets Jeff, a boy she becomes very close with. Naomi is unused to the murky social dynamics of the privileged and the wealthy and can only barely navigate the unruly waters. This all changes with the appearance of Jacinta; an eccentric fashion blogger who moves in next to Naomi. Jacinta is obsessed with meeting Delilah, who is a budding fashion model, and she begs Naomi to introduce them. Before she knows it Naomi has agreed to bridge the gap between the two socialites.

For those who have read The Great Gatsby this formula is familiar. What I appreciate about retellings, and what Benincasa has done spectacularly well, is when an author frames the story with the original skeleton but then tweaks and twists everything else. And Benincasa has done just that. The simple decision to change the genders of a couple of principal characters works remarkably well. It adds a dynamic to the original content that makes more sense to a modern reader who may not understand the gravity of the social structure from the period. We have to remember that the source novel was written in the 20’s and things were different then. People were different. It’s not enough to show people sitting around drinking to imply them having a “wild” time. You have to go bigger with the content to make today’s reader understand. You have to throw in a social element that still holds weight – and in this day and age two women attracted to one another (sadly) still has the gravitas to invigorate the story.

At times this story reads like satire, but when it does its the best kind of satire. Benincasa hits upon the major themes of The Great Gatsby with a deft touch of both humour and heart. She nails the story and she achieves something that even Fitzgerald did not – sympathetic characters. Everyone in this story is a shell. Everyone has something that they are hiding. We watch these husks meandering through this story. In the past it evokes nothing. In this book it evokes everything and I am so happy that Benincasa got it right.

There are a couple of other key plot point changes that also work well, but I won’t go into them because they’re spoilery. Rest assured that Benincasa manages to capture the essence of this novel in a brilliant way that translates well to a contemporary audience. It’s one of those books for the fans of April Lindner, Marissa Meyer, and Diana Peterfreund… fans who like to see the stories told completely differently.

5 out of 5 stars.

– BP

* Great releases April 8, 2014. An e-arc was provided the publisher Harpercollins via Edelweiss. Thanks for the opportunity to read it early.

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