Published by HarperTeen on April 8, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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I could not wait to get my hands (and eyes) on Great by Sara Benincasa. (Plus that cover? Puh-lease. I am such a sucker for a pretty cover.) I have always loved The Great Gatsby. It was the ultimate love story for me – that man was willing to do anything for that woman. As I got older, I realized there’s a lot more to the story – Gatsby was driven by more than just love. The complicated undertones just made me the story even more epic for me, which is why I was so intrigued by Great.
(Note: In case it’s not obvious by now, I can’t separate Great from its source material, so my review is written from that perspective.) Retelling a classic, iconic story is not for the faint of heart, especially one that’s so embedded in our literary consciousness like The Great Gatsby. Benincasa manages to make the story her own by putting a contemporary spin on the narrative, but still stays true to the characters and story line. At times a little too true, it can feel a bit like Great is reaching to include every last detail from the original.
I do love Benincasa’s writing style, it flows well, and her dialogue is clever and entertaining. Having a girl as narrator was certainly an interesting twist that I liked, as was the girl-girl relationship at the center of the book. The modernizations were clever and well thought-out – fashion blogging, celebrity chef-ing and the desperate pursuit of fame made the story very of-the-moment. Benincasa has a sharp eye for some of the more ridiculous aspects of our media-saturated culture. However, I didn’t fall in love with Jacinta the way I fell in love with Gatsby. Maybe because Jacinta’s relationship with Delilah Fairweather didn’t seem to justify her obsessive love; it was a little too shallow. As readers we never really got to see far enough inside Delilah to understand Jacinta’s infatuation.
As a whole, I really enjoyed Great. And it’s probably unfair to expect it to measure up to the original. It stands alone as a well-crafted, engaging story with a warm and witty protagonist (who has an awesome lesbian best-friend I wish would have had a bigger role). I’m excited to see what Sara Benincasa does next; I would love to see her write an original YA. Great is definitely worth reading, whether you loved The Great Gatsby, didn’t, or have never even cracked the cover.