For YA Contemporary Thursday, I'm reviewing Great by Sara Benincasa. I thought that this new adaptation of The Great Gatsby was GREAT, and I can't wait for all of you to read it.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Harper Teen
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
Synopsis via Goodreads:
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.
With that being said, I generally don't expect all that much from these adaptations. The story's already been told, it's just in a different genre/outfit/whatever. So when I heard about Great, and how it was an adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I figured I'd like it, but wouldn't be blown away by it.
I was wrong. Great is a fantastic, timely adaptation that is not only a great spin on a classic tale, but also the sign of a fantastic new voice to the YA world. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Sara!)
Naomi Rye is the daughter of a divorced high school coach father, and a famous Food Network star mother. As a part of their divorce settlement, Naomi is forced to spend time with her mom in the Hamptons each summer, which typically means hanging out with rich, monied people that she has nothing in common with.
However, Naomi just happens to make the acquaintance of elusive fashion blogger Jacinta, who quickly takes Naomi into her fold. While Naomi is initially intimated (and awed) by the amount of money that Jacinta lavishes on her parties and the people around her, she quickly realizes that Jacinta actually has a past and secrets to hide.
It's not that easy creating an original character when you're reinterpreting a classic tale, but Naomi is absolutely original in her own right. Benincasa has made her smart and thoughtful, but also snarky and self-depricating about a world that she clearly isn't going out of her way to fit into.
However, she's also adaptable. When Naomi does make the acquaintance of the elusive, highly-sought after Jacinta, she doesn't go out of her way to befriend her or impress her. Instead, Naomi shows Jacinta genuine friendship and compassion. In turn, Jacinta shows her a vulnerability that not only wins over Naomi, but will likely win over readers as well.
Benincasa remains fairly loyal to Fizgerald's original story throughout Great - down to the inclusion of a very famous scene where Jacinta shows Delilah just what she's been able to afford now, and Delilah reacts accordingly - but doesn't also fail to put her own spin on the classic tale. She also includes probing and thoughtful questions on wealth, societal pressures like drinking and bullying, and the difficulties of growing up in such a monied, high-stakes world, all of which I think readers will absolutely be fascinated by, and relate to.
All in all, Great pulled me into the story from the very first page, and kept me riveted until the final denouement. Even though I already knew how the story was going to end - I figured that Beninancasa wouldn't stray from the source enough to change it - I was still surprised to realize just how moved I was by that ending. That, in my mind, is a clear sign that Benincasa has written an adaptation that should be regarded in its own right.
Of special note: I highly, highly appreciated the fact that Benincasa does incorporate several LGBT romances into Great, without any specific emphasis on the fact that they're LGBT. It's not only extremely true and reflective of the real world, but also just made my reading experience richer in general. I can only hope that more YA writers will follow in her footsteps.
I highly recommend Great for fans of contemporary YA fiction, but also for fans who are looking for something new in their reading habits. As for me, I'll absolutely be back for anything else that Benincasa may write.