Great by Sara Benincasa

I have close to 30 books on my reading list, and that doesn’t include books that I have purchased for my Kindle. That being said, one of the books that I was the most excited about was Great, a modern re-telling of The Great Gatsby. This young adult novel was written by Sara Benincasa.

The biggest change is that Nick and Gatsby are both female characters in Beninicasa’s version. Naomi Rye is a Chicago-bred teen with divorced parents who spends her summers in the Hamptons with her social climbing mother. Now, let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge the wry (ha, do you see what I did there?) pun with the surname Rye and the original novel’s Carraway. Well played, Sara- well played!

Sara and her mother live in an abode that is considered modest by Hamptons standards. The palatial (literally- it looks like a castle) home next door is owned by Europeans who rent it out to a different family every summer. This year, the home has been rented by the mysterious Jacinta Trimalchio. Jacinta owns a blog that is popular with the Manhattan prep school set. Jacinta throws lavish parties that everyone loves.

Naomi is used to spending her summers in relative obscurity, but with Jacinta’s arrival, Naomi finds herself thrust into a social spotlight. But of course, if you have read the original novel, you may recall that Jacinta’s carefully constructed world is not all that it appears to be.

I loved Great. I thought that it was a wonderfully modern homage to The Great Gatsby. The plot is fairly faithful to the original. Benincasa goes to great lengths to include details from the original. We have Tom and Daisy, and we have a Jordan character- although the modern Jordan is now a girl, to complement the “Nick” character being female. We have George and Myrtle Wilson equivalents, and there is even a modern take on the disembodied eyes of T.J. Eckleburg: a billboard advertising plastic surgery. And of course, Jacinta’s surname is also a Gastby reference. In the original novel, Nick refers to Gatsby as Trimalchio, a fictional Roman famed for his lavish parties.

I would absolutely recommend Great. While it is based on one of the most famous American novels ever written, it stands very well on its own. Benincasa writes delightful prose, and the juicy details of wealthy teens behaving badly is a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s fascinating how Great is set over 90 years after The Great Gastby, but Benincasa did not have to do that much work to transition the novel to the present day. It translates very well. I would recommend Great to others. If you’d like some more information about Great, you can find it here: Great

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