Review: Great | Sara Benincasa

This Review contains spoilers. 


Great“It’s like there’s this knowledge hanging in the air that one person has more power than the other, and we’re supposed to pretend everything is nice and normal and equal, but in reality, luck or chance has showered benefits on one person that the other person couldn’t dream of.” 

Published: 2014, by HarperTeen.
Pages: 263
Format: Hardback
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Retellings, LGBT, Fiction
Contains: Violence/Anger, Death, Suicide, Homophobia

‘Great’ is a modern day retelling of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby, and follows Naomi Rye’s summer holiday with her socialite mother in East Hampton. Her Mother’s intense career means she has little time to spend with her daughter, leaving Naomi to find entertainment elsewhere, until being invited to her mysterious neighbor’s party. There, she meets Jacinta.

I already had predictions on my thoughts regarding this book, due to The Great Gatsby being one of my all time favourite novels, and the mere thought of someone tampering with it sent chills down my spine.

The plot line itself stuck to the original piece fairly well, having Naomi (Nick) introduce herself to the audience and describe her home life, where her Mother’s influence led her to take the trip to East Hampton and stay with her for the holidays. Along the way she meets Delilah (Daisy) and Teddy (Tom). However, towards the end the crucial events of the original were missing, meaning the point of The Great Gatsby was lost on this piece. The death of Jay Gatsby shows the effect his wife’s death had on George, leading him to make extreme mistakes by murdering him. However, in ‘Great’, Jacinta commits suicide in an unknown way, meaning Misti’s death seemed practically pointless. Gatsby’s hope throughout the story also was crucial to the tale, him living in his own dream world meaning he died holding Daisy’s secret so she could live a happy life. However, in this retelling Jacinta creates a video informing who was driving the car that hit Misti, asking Naomi to post it online so the truth could be revealed. Honestly, I have no idea why this was written this way, making no sense to plot line or who Jacinta’s character was throughout the book. I’m aware that retellings can create a twist in the tale, however, there was no indication that Jacinta would make this decision throughout; she was obsessed with Delilah to her death, why would she destroy her reputation?

The characters themselves were something I couldn’t get into, finding Naomi’s narrative taxing to read due to the pure ridiculousness of the writing. The characters in the book suit the annoying-rich-kids trope, yet so much that there were times where I had to take a break or reread a line a few times to process the words written. For example, here’s a few that irritated me the most:

[On the topic of the school’s LGBT Alliance.] “It was true. Skags made me join because she said if I didn’t, it meant I was homophobic. And, anyway, she needed my vote for president.” 
(Page 34)

“It’s for your own good,” […] “You dress like you’re mentally unstable.”
(Page 69)

“Fashionable. Right. Or she dresses like she just escaped from the mental ward.” 
(Page 171)

The constant mention of a psychiatric ward being used in either a comedic or insulting way frustrated me so much whilst reading, and although, there is the character’s being young people who I’m assuming has no personal connection to a mental institution, I’m sure they’re aware of the severity of their statements. I see no reason for it to be written in this way, there being countless other insults available without using something this controversial. I understand that it could have been written to make you dislike Delilah and Naomi’s Mother more, however, numerous other insults could have sufficed. Also, as a member of the LGBT community, having a heterosexual friend who isn’t in an alliance would not make them homophobic and I would never define them as such. It’s just stupidity.
For a retelling there’s the enjoyment of knowing people reading will understand already who the characters are and their personalities, yet there is also the chance to develop and explore them in new ways. I didn’t feel this while reading ‘Great’, being left with two-dimensional characters simply written to suit those they were replicating.

Overall, for a book called ‘Great’, expectations were high, and unfortunately they weren’t met.



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