Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review: Great

Author: Sara Benincasa
Published: April 8, 2014
Hardcover, 263 pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

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 neighbour, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reasons 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 wed 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 enthral readers.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite classics, so when I heard about this book, a modern re-telling if Gatsby, I had to get my hands on it. Benincasa has captured the eerie, too perfect setting of the West Egg and how one person's summer is completely overruled and sent into a whirlwind all because of the person living in the huge house next door. The third party perspective that worked so well when Fitzgerald wrote it, works beautifully in this new adaptation of it, showing how easily we can get caught up in other people's affairs. Naomi normally stays away from everyone during her summers spend in East Hampton. But as soon as she gets off the plane this year, she is whisked away with Delilah and her friends, beginning a summer full of scandal, love and tragedy.

This book will make so much more sense if you've read Gatsby, and those who loved Gatsby will love this book. Those who may not have enjoyed Gatsby will probably not like this one as it reads the same, a slow summer of Naomi watching from the outside as Jacinta and Delilah begin an affair that causes everything to turn to ruins. The characters are perfectly reminiscent of Fitzgerald's characters. Naomi is content not being part of any of it, but she can't deny her lingering curiosity for her neighbour, Jacinta. The huge parties Jacinta throws and the crazy she way she dresses and the way she speaks to everyone like they have been friends for years. I love how Jacinta is a fashion blogger who everyone knows about but no one really knows what she looks like. Very much like Gatsby, I loved reading small tidbits like that that reminded me of the classic novel. Jacinta's infatuation with Delilah is a downward spiral and even though I knew how it would end, I still loved their moments together and loved watching favourite parts from the original play out in this modern day rich-summering-in-the-Hamptons, which looked an awful lot like the summers in the 1920s. The lack of tension at the beginning where Naomi is just a by-stander quickly turns on the hot summer day that they drive into the city. It was strange to read it, since I knew what was going to happen, but it was wonderful and awful to read anyway and it was written so perfectly that I felt like I was still reading Fitzgerald's work.

This is a book about the rich and what they can and can't get away with. It's a love story, but it's not a healthy one, and Benincasa has taken it one step further by making it a lesbian love story. Jacinta and Delilah were beautiful together as I watched their relationship disintegrate before my eyes. This was a great re-telling that stands on its own but also works well as a companion to the original. It had all the parts I loved about the original with a new updated story to go with the YA novels that are around today. I fell in love with these characters and their story all over again and it was a fantastic journey. Even though it takes place now, I still felt the aura and mystery of the 1920s that makes me want to go back in time so badly.

"It's like there's this knowledge hanging in the air that one person has more power than the other, and we're supposed to pretend everything is nice and normal and equal, but in reality, luck or chance has showered benefits on one person that the other person couldn't dream of."

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