Thursday, April 10, 2014

Great by Sara Benincasa

Great by Sara Benincasa
Release Date - April 8, 2014
Publisher Website - Harper Collins
Publisher Social Media - Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader
Pages - 272 pages
My Rating - 4/5
**received in exchange for an honest review from the publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
In Sara Benincasa's contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.

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 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.
Putting your own twist on a classic story must be incredibly daunting. Sara Benincasa's modernized, and gender bent, take on The Great Gatsby makes it look effortless. Her passion for the source material comes thorough to create a nostalgic, but still surprising read.

The Great Gatsby, in my experience, is a very polarizing novel. My experience has been that people either love it, or dislike it with a great passion. I think how one reacts to Great may depend on which grouping you fall into. If you loved The Great Gatsby there are plenty of moments that will delight and thrill. The characters and reminiscent, the setting, the themes all pay a little nod to the source. However, I think there are enough surprises, and that Sara has tweaked it just enough, that she makes it her own.

The writing is a perfect blend of humour, and insight. There is a flair needed to capture the essence of the melodramatic nature of The Great Gatsby without it becoming eye roll worthy and Sara Benincasa manages it. Her previous writing has obviously sharpened her skills, and as a result, Great is a tightly paced read.

The lavish parties, the glitz, the glamour that is Gatsby is here is spades. Fashion takes centre stage and it's an excellent fit for this story. The decadent parties, ferris wheel, and fancy restaurants all offer a stark contrast to the rapidly spiraling events of the novel.

Lies and masks are a huge part of what drives this story. Jacinta has carefully created an air of mystery that is meant to hide her true secrets. Plenty of characters are hiding secrets and are covering them with lies. As each one snowballs into the next, and the novel rushes to it's tragic conclusion, you're left wondering how well you really knew any of the characters. This does make talking about the characters incredibly difficult, because unraveling their secrets is part of this novel's fun.

The gender switch was an intriguing twist to the story. It added an extra layer to the novel's themes. Having the roles reversed added a nuance that you wouldn't recognized unless you had read The Great Gatsby. The female characters in this felt much more layered, and complex than the original. I've always felt the men in The Great Gatsby got most of the attention. It really shone a light on how the female characters are given a power they didn't have in the original.

The bright spotlight put on the rich upper class is harsh and unforgiving in this novel. We see the darker side to 'having it all' laid out in these pages. Dating someone because their 'suitable', entitlement, desperation to main appearances, ostracizing others are just some of the scandalous behaviours demonstrated during the novel. I appreciated how it was done without going overboard. Everything, even the most grandiose, felt plausible within this world.

The story is told from Naomi's perspective and as a result everything is filtered through her eyes. She's the only character whose motivations, feelings and desires are fully known to the reader. Her awakening to the world around her, and how she reacts to it, is a fascinating perspective to follow. She acts as a reader surrogate in a lot of ways as she journeys through this tumultuous summer.

Sara does a fantastic job with the other characters as well, so much in fact that I wanted to get inside many of their heads. Delilah and Jacinta, specifically. Each of them was alluring and captivating for their own reasons. Deliah mainly because she's the least developed. We know very little about her, never mind what drew Jacinta to her. Jacinta because her thought process, particularly towards the end of the novel, would have been engrossing as a reader. The fact that I wonder about them, and want more of them just shows that did what they were supposed to do as characters.

Fans of The Great Gatsby will find much to delight over, and there is still plenty to please those who haven't read the source material. It's a scandalous, voyeuristic look at a life changing summer in the Hamptons and will be a perfect addition to your beach bag this summer.

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