Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Great by Sara Benincasa

"That place at the beach with all your mother's fancy friends- it's another world. I'm not saying it's a bad one. It's just different. But whether you're in this world or that one, you still have to live with yourself. Remember that you can't be one person one place and a totally different person in another place. Right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter where you are..."

Thus begins Great. Let's compare it to Nick Carraway's father's advice:

"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

I first read The Great Gatsby in my 11th Grade Honors English class. Actually, I read it twice (Which is about one and a half more times than I read The Scarlet Letter, but that is irrelevant). I finished the book on my own, then we ended up reading it in class. I've always liked Gatsby, the green light, can't repeat the past, and boats against the current.

Great sounded really interesting. It takes The Great Gatsby and sets it in present day Hamptons, the vacation destination for the old and nouveau rich alike. Naomi, our Nick Carraway, is spending the summer in the Hamptons with her mother. Her mother is a TV chef who has become a household name, so she is busy with marketing and all that good stuff. They are the new rich, so Naomi is usually ignored by the children of the people her mother wants to know.

One exception to this is Delilah. Delilah is tall, blonde, beautiful, and perpetually stoned. She also works as a model and dates Teddy (Tom), who was a child actor on a popular sitcom. He never stops talking about the show. It's very sad. Delilah and Teddy are an awful couple. Most of their friends even know that he is cheating on her with Misti (Myrtle), a New Jersey waitress.

The talk of the Hamptons this year is Jacinda. She runs a popular fashion blog and is very focused on Delilah. Jacinda is renting the house next door to Naomi's, and she wants Naomi to help her get close to Delilah. It turns out that the two were very close as children, and soon they are best friends, and maybe more? Meanwhile, Naomi is getting close with the male version of Jordan Baker.

We all know how The Great Gatsby ends, or at least we should by now. Myrtle dies, Gatsby dies, the Jazz Age sucks, and we all live depressingly ever after. Great does have the same ending, with some odd differences. I really enjoy the writing in this book. It made reading a treat. Updating the story to the Hamptons works well, because there's plenty to be cynical about there.

What doesn't work is making the characters teenagers. It's hard to get invested in the relationships. Tom and Daisy were married with a baby, and they lived in the 1920s. Teddy and Delilah could actually just break up, because they are teenagers, and that's what teenagers do. It's hard to believe any real connection between Jacinda and Delilah because their entire history occurred when they were in elementary school.  The female Gatsby angle is different, but a same sex couple isn't especially scandalous these days.

Overall, I still enjoyed Great. It really is easy to get lost in the writing. I am a little skeptical if teenagers will want to read a retelling of their English assignments, but you never know what kids these days are into. 

I received my copy of Great from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

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