Monday, 10 March 2014

Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

Title: Great
Author: Sara Benincasa
Release date: April 8th 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Format: eARC
Pages: 176
Source: Edelweiss

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.

I first read The Great Gatsby a couple years ago as a high school English Literature exam text, and I loved it. We spent the most part of two years thoroughly analyzing the book and its themes, and all of that just made me appreciate the book even more. So when I heard that Great is a retelling, I was a little apprehensive but definitely interested in reading it.

This book follows Naomi Rye as she spends the summer among the filthy rich at the Hamptons. She's always felt out of place there, but this year, things are different. Delilah Fairweather has taken Naomi under her wing, and newcomer Jacinta definitely stirs things up. Not to mention the gorgeous Jeff who Naomi seems to be falling for. But just as everything is falling into place, it all begins to fall apart. And Naomi has no idea what or whom to trust.

The author has changed a few things from the original story, but for the most part it's exactly the same, even down to certain dialogue that has been tweaked just a little. This is supposed to be a retelling, yet I felt like it was a sort of imitation of The Great Gatsby. The only thing the author added to make it her own unique book is the homosexuality. Which is a bold and smart move, but it was just surface stuff. There was so much more she could have done with it, but didn't.

Since I've read the book that Great is based on, I knew exactly what would happen at the end, so nothing surprised me here. In fact, I was disappointed at how similar the storyline was to that of The Great Gatsby. I think this is the problem with doing contemporary retellings - there isn't much you can change without losing the essence of the original book. I've read retellings of classics that are fantasy or dystopian, and I think those were done really well. This, on the other hand... If you loved The Great Gatsby as much as I did or you've studied it in school, you'll get what I mean.

Most of my thoughts while reading this were focused on comparing the characters to their originals - I couldn't help it. And I couldn't help noticing that these characters just didn't have that depth or realness to them. Sure, these guys are all teenagers and it's definitely a more light-hearted book, but still. There are deaths in this of course, but they didn't affect me at all because I couldn't connect with the characters. I couldn't even bring up the hatred for Delilah and Teddy that I had felt for Daisy and Tom in The Great Gatsby.

Jacinta, the Gatsby of this book, is by far the best character. Of course. She's as intriguing as Gatsby, and I liked that she called everyone 'love', like Gatsby's signature 'old sport'. She's mysterious and fascinating, and I found myself quite enthralled by her.

Another thing I really liked in this book are all the descriptions. The imagery is fantastic, and I loved picturing Jacinta's house and parties in my head. It's all so rich, and I could feel the distinct essence of the upper class life and all it entails.

Overall, though, I was kind of disappointed with this book. I expected so much more from it, mostly because it's based on such an amazing novel. It just felt shallow to me for the most part, and I couldn't really get into it. I'm glad this book is shorter than most, because by one point I just wanted to get it over with. I'd say this would be a nice read if you haven't read The Great Gatsby, but if you have and you loved it, you might just have the same thoughts I did throughout.

*Thank you to HarperCollins for providing me with an eARC for review*

Rating: 2.5/5

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