Great by Sara Benincasa
Published: April 8th, 2014
272 pages (eARC)
Genre: Contemporary young adult/retelling
Acquired this book: From the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
Warning: May contain spoilers
Everyone loves a good scandal.
Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta's carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.
Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa's darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.
I read (and loved) The Great Gatsby in high school, so when I heard about Sara Benincasa’s Great - a modern day retelling of The Great Gatsby where the characters were teens - I knew I had to read it. While I ended up with some mixed feelings about this book, I thought it was overall a good attempt at retelling a well-known classic.
I loved how Benincasa worked in all the Gatsby characters, but with a twist - Naomi as Nick the narrator, Jacinta as Jay Gatsby, Delilah as Daisy. I thought it was really clever. Naomi lived with her dad during the year, but spent the summers with her mother (a Martha Stewart type) in the Hamptons. She leads a regular life with her dad in Chicago, but in the Hamptons she has to live up to her mother’s standards by dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, and being friends with the ‘right people’. Naomi was against it all at first, and didn’t want to be part of the superficial lifestyle lead by everyone around her, but she slowly got sucked into that world.
I had a soft spot for Jacinta, just as I did for Jay in The Great Gatsby. Despite coming across as very sophisticated and worldly, she had this innocence and naivety about her. She was so desperate for people to like her, and she wanted to please people at any cost. She had a sweet, childlike quality to her that made it hard for me not to like her.
Benincasa did a great job of modernizing a classic. I liked that technology played a big part, showing how it can be a wonderful thing or a person’s downfall. As someone who read and loved The Great Gatsby, I enjoyed watching how things played out, and how Benincasa twisted the original in a creative and compelling way while still holding true to the heart of the story.
Ultimately, Great is one of those books that’s sort of fun and frivolous. I love really dramatic reality TV, and that’s what this book felt like a lot of the time - lots of drama and intrigue, people with more money than brains, broken hearts, broken friendships, lies, and betrayal. Not a whole lot actually happened until toward the end of the book, but it was mostly a fun ride getting there. Retelling such a well-known classic - one that’s had several movie adaptations (the Paul Rudd as Nick version is my personal favourite) - was ambitious, and I think Benincasa did a really good job. As a retelling, it has a lot of appeal, but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I weren’t familiar with the original.
Have you read Great? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Have you read The Great Gatsby?