April 3, 2014

Great - Sara Benincasa

Great - Sara Benincasa
Great by Sara Benincasa
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source/Format: Edelweiss (Thanks!)  || e-galley
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

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.

It is absolutely fascinating to read stories infused with heavy drama and intense emotions, enveloped by a heady debate about the reality of it all. Great, a contemporary YA retelling of The Great Gatsby, delivered on all three fronts. I was riveted to the page, even though I knew what was bound to happen by the end of the novel. Sara Benincasa has succeeded in breathing fresh life into a classic tale, sweeping me up completely with her debut novel.

Benincasa stuck closely to the main details of the original tale, particularly with the character profiles and the series of events. I, having seen The Great Gatsby reboot within the last year, knew exactly what would happen and to whom. This in no way diminished my interest in this story, proving that there is something essentially interesting about watching what happens to these characters, entitled and persuasive and destructive as they were. In fact, drawing similarities between the original and this novel was fun to do!

This is not to say that there is no originality to Great, because there is.

Naomi Rye is our central character, the girl who feels out of sorts leaving her full-time home in Chicago with her dad to spend summer in the Hamptons with her famous mother. Uncomfortable with her mother’s need to be a part of the elite crowd in their community, Naomi usually shies away from any interaction of that sort and buries herself in books. But this summer is different, because she has a new neighbor in the amazing house next door: Jacinta.

Jacinta is a fashion blogger, well-known for her lavish lifestyle and her odd eccentricities. She’s the kind of gal everyone feels like they should know or make an effort to be known by, compounded by the general niceness she displays. She only has eyes for Delilah Fairweather, however, one of the rich, elite, model-debutante girls of the Hampton crowd. Delilah is also a nice girl, but riddled with insecurity, passion and a delicate presence. Delilah is involved with a boy named Teddy, who is one of her crowd.

These are the main players in the story, but really, it’s mostly about Naomi. She wasn’t expecting her summer to be any different from the ones in her past, but it winds up being just that. She starts to change a little bit to fit in with this summer crowd, everything from the way she dresses to what she does with her time. It’s a little unnerving because she feels like she needs to be different to be accepted. But then again, who of us hasn’t felt that way before?

There’s something tragic about this change in her, honestly, and you could just sense that nothing good was going to come out of it. At first, it seems like it might be wrong to think so: she gains a boyfriend (one of Teddy's friends), gets invited to all the parties and hang out with Jacinta and Delilah, and everything seems peachy. But things start falling apart when Jacinta and Delilah start to shut her out, her boyfriend shows some less than desirable qualities and her mother continues to drive her crazy with her insanely business-focused mindset.

Obviously, there’s a ton of drama here because everything that happens in the original story also happens in some form or fashion in Great. Even though I knew that it was going to get crazy, I still held out hope that it wouldn’t – naïve, positive person that I am. Still, there’s something about the train wreck of Jacinta’s story (as seen through Naomi’s eyes) that you cannot turn away from. Call it a morbid curiosity, call it naïve hope – it is what it is. This kept me glued to the pages until the early hours of the morning. How exactly does it end? Well, you’ll have to read and find out, won’t you?

I liked Great, because it toed the line between retelling and reinvention. Pulling recognizable elements and themes from The Great Gatsby, Benincasa has managed to create a novel that’s entirely her own too. Interesting details (like Jacinta’s fashion blog! And Naomi’s mother being a food personality! The fact that there were even parents involved at all! Naomi’s lesbian best friend from Chicago, who sadly doesn't wind up playing much of a role!) managed to make Great fascinating. It’s a well-done YA contemporary, and makes me wonder what else Sara Benincasa will let loose into the world of books in the future.

Jacinta likes throwing fabulously extravagant themed celebrations. If you could throw a party with any sort of theme, no expenses spared, what kind of party would it be?

I was honestly pretty close to deciding on a 1920s-themed party, because I wanted to dress like a flapper! BUT the one party theme I have always wanted to bring to life (and now have a promise from my husband that it will happen) is a masquerade. The affair would be held in a small castle, decorated with tapestries, rich in velvet and colors, filled with candles and a buffet to delight any eater (with cuisine from all over the world!). There would be room for dancing, whether you're in the mood for something slow and romantic, or fast and loud. There would be a lounge area, where you can sit, chat, sip coffee, alcohol or tea and eat desserts. There would be a balcony to watch the stars, and the fireworks show. And, of course, everyone would be required to wear beautiful gowns, handsome suits and extravagant masks!


  1. It has honestly been years since I read Gatsby and I haven't seen the new film yet (don't kill me!). I have been tiptoeing around the idea of a fresh reread since in high school I didn't enjoy it. This definitely has my interest! I may pick this up and then reread it. Make a Gatsby marathon out of it!
    What party would I throw? A masquerade as well! I collect masquerade masks, and I love the aesthetic most of those parties have. Makes me dreamy thinking about it. =)

  2. I feel like I'm in the minority on this one - you and Estelle both loved it, but I personally found it difficult to connect with Naomi and too much like the original. I guess I like my retellings to be a little more different than the source material - it just felt like retreading the same steps for me.

    The writing was solid...I just don't know why I didn't connect with it. Anyway. I liked how you described the tragic arc of Naomi's summer and how it mirrored Jacinta's downfall - nice comparison! =)

  3. I didn't know this was a Gatsby retelling. Totally news to me! I love what you said about how the book toes the line between reinvention and retelling. I think that says a lot about the creativity and cleverness of the author and it also makes the story super unique. Great sounds like a great read *winks* and I'll definitely check it out if I have the chance. Lovely review, Alexa! :)

  4. I just read this one. I have never read Gatsby and I also haven't seen the movie. But I loved this book and it totally made me want to run out and do both of those things right away. It reminded me of Gossip Girl which I love and I know you do too, Alexa. There was so much drama and tragedy and I absolutely loved it. I was sad that Skags didn't play a bigger role as well! The tiny snippets we see of her I loved. She was such a unique character.

    Also, can I please attend this masquerade party? It sounds awesome!

  5. Ooh, very interesting! I just saw this this morning and passed it over but now I may go back to it and reconsider it! I haven't read The Great Gatsby but have seen both versions of the movie; very good story and I wish I had read it back in high school. Um, and if that masquerade happens, I would like to come. Please and thank you.


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