Book Review | Great

Great Sara Benincasa Cover

[I won this ARC of Great by Sara Benincasa from HarperTeen through their @hccfrenzy Twitter contest. This does not affect my opinion on the book.]

Great is a contemporary young adult retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic The Great Gatsby. It follows seventeen year old Naomi Rye as she navigates the social circles of East Hampton, where she “summers” (used as a verb) with her baker extraordinaire mother Anne Rye. Anne is a social climber and tries desperately to get Naomi to socialize with her influential friends. When Naomi is invited to an extravagant party next door, she attends and finds herself meeting the elusive host herself: Jacinta Trimalchio. What she doesn’t know is that Jacinta has a past that she’s been hiding and normally detached Naomi gets more involved than ever…

I started reading Great almost immediately after discussing The Great Gatsby with a friend so the source material was fresh on my mind. As I was reading, I noticed the similarities Great has with the original work but was intrigued by the new twist Benincasa added. This, to me, is the kind of retelling that works – it’s inventive enough that it doesn’t feel like all the author did was substitute names but not so far off from the original that readers don’t get the satisfaction of recognizing the source material once in a while. Gatsby’s lifestyle transitions easily to the East Hamptons, so nothing seems overly out of the place or far-fetched. I loved that the infamous green light from the original text translated to a laptop charging dock in Great.

This book is great for those who have read The Great Gatsby but also those who have not. I enjoyed the fact that Naomi is such a rounded character. She seems like the type of girl I could be really good friends with; she sees herself as a feminist, is active in the LGBT-Straight Alliance at her high school, and has the perfect amount of cynicism towards the rich socialites she’s forced to spend time with. She also names Clueless as one of her favourite movies and Anne of Green Gables the novel is an “old favourite” of hers. She’s the type of character that book lovers fall in love with and because of that, she pulls readers into the story and engages them no matter what their history with The Great Gatsby is.

I will say that some of the symbolism is lost in translation, but ultimately I don’t think that’s what Great is about. As a young adult novel, its main goal is to make a classic work more accessible and I think it has succeeded tremendously. It is a powerful book that will delight new readers and surprise The Great Gatsby worshipers. The ending is just as shocking as the original, and kept me on my toes the whole way through.

Verdict: A very strong adaptation. I would definitely recommended it to The Great Gatsby lovers and new readers alike.
Read if: You love reading contemporary retellings of classics, The Great Gatsby, and overall fun to read novels.

Will you be picking up Great? Have you read The Great Gatsby?

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