Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

26 March, 2014 Reviews 23 comments

I received this book for free from Edelweiss, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Great by Sara BenincasaGreat by Sara Benincasa
Series: Standalone
Published by HarperTeen on April 8th 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

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.

How you feel about Great is going to depend heavily on how you feel about The Great Gatsby. If you dislike the original, this is unlikely to change your mind. If you haven’t read the original, I can’t really help you because it’s impossible for me to separate this book from the source material, so I’m going to go with it’s a good story, you should check it out. If you love the original (the camp I hail from) then Great is pretty damn great.

Gatsby toast(I had to and I’m not sorry)

As a retelling, this is more of the re, less of the telling. What I mean is it follows the source material pretty much exactly. While Sara Benincasa throws in her own twists (one notable example being gender-flipping Gatsby for no other reason than why the hell not? and yesss, good impulse) and updates the setting and details, she’s basically taking F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale and coloring between the lines.

For the uninitiated, the story goes as thus: Regular girl (Naomi) goes to spend her summer with her baked goods mogel mother on the fancy end of the Hamptons and finds herself palling around with golden girl Delilah and friends, one of whom being her glamorous yet mysterious neighbor Jacinta. While I can’t say I totally liked any of the characters (two exceptions, we’ll get to them in a bit), that’s sort of the point, these people can be awesome but are also pretty messed up in terrible and/or annoying ways.

Naomi isn’t the most standout of MCs (so true to the original) though she can be snarky and sharp when the situation calls for it (slight deviation from GG, I recall all of zero interesting things about Nick). The real story is found in the lives she’s observing. Long story short, if you give a bunch of people all the money and none of the rules, shenanigans ensue.

This story is considered a classic for a reason. A tourist’s view of the lifestyles of the rich and fabulous, scratching past the glitzy outer layer to expose the hollow, nasty bits beneath? You can’t tell me that trope isn’t still interesting and relevant (hello, Gossip Girl). Even knowing the inevitable outcome, I still found myself surprisingly invested in the outcome. When the plot picked up, I found my anxiety level rising to match.

Benincasa did make a few small additions to the story. Jeff, the gender-swapped love interest for Naomi, has more of a presence than I remember Jordan having in the original. I approve of this liberty-taking and ngl, up until a certain point, I was shipping it. He has this delightfully dead-pan, sarcastic way of making fun of everyone to their faces that I adored.

My favorite addition is Skags, Naomi’s best friend from back home (I can’t say this with 100% certainty, but I do not recall Nick talking to anyone off-island). Though Skags has a depressingly small part, she makes every moment count and my biggest regret with Great is that she was limited to memories and a voice on the phone.

All in all, solid two thumbs up. Benincasa does an admirable job of making a classic relevant to a modern audience and I applaud that effort. Retelling (slightly) aside, I reiterate, Great is a thoroughly enjoyable story and well worth checking out.

Meg Morley

Meg Morley

Co-bloggery at Cuddlebuggery
Meg is an all-around book nerd who just really wants to talk about books, preferably with other people but by herself will do. Find her on Goodreads.

23 Responses to “Review: Great by Sara Benincasa”

    • Meg Morley

      I’m torn, I see what you mean and it could have been cool if it was a sort of ‘inspired by’ situation as opposed to retelling, but it worked out really well the way it is so I’m satisfied. I hope you love it!

  1. Camilla

    I’m always very wary of retellings and especially of stories that I care for, so I had actually put “Great” in the pile of “will-likely-not-read”. In general, I can’t really understand the need for a close retelling – why not just read the original?

    However, your review makes it sound like it might not be as “bad” as I had feared, so maybe I will give this a chance 🙂
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    • Meg Morley

      This is definitely not bad. I don’t mind close retellings or reboots because I enjoy seeing new people put their own spin on things I already like, but I also recognize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you do read it, I hope you like it.

  2. Dahlia Adler

    I also really enjoyed this one, but “As a retelling, this is more of the re, less of the telling” is such a perfect description. There were some really clever choices (hell yes on the gender-flip and turning this f/f) and the further in it got the more invested I got and the more the pacing picked up, but I find it impossible to imagine someone loving this without at least knowing the source material, let alone loving it. I’m glad I’m in camp “knows/likes the original” so I was able to enjoy this as much as I did, but it would’ve been awesome to see it done in such a way that I would’ve believed it had universal appeal.
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    • Meg Morley

      I couldn’t believe how caught up in everything I was given how I knew what would happen! Very impressive on Benincasa’s part. Loved the modern adaptations (gender-flipping is one of my favorite twists and I loved the f/f take). I can see where it might not be the greatest for someone who doesn’t know the original, but I know it so well that I had a really hard time separating the two and looking at Great as its own thing.

  3. Rebecca @ The Library Canary

    So I have not read the book nor have I seen the movie, but I did really really like this book. Which totally makes me want to read GG and also see the movie. So that will be coming up soon (hopefully). It had such a Gossip Girl feel to it and I love Gossip Girl so much! I also really loved Skags btw. She was a very down-to-earth and tell-it-like-it-is girl and I loved that.
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    • Meg Morley

      Yessss! Thanks for commenting! I was really curious to see how a non-Gatsby fan would take the book just because I’m so familiar with the source, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I’m glad it holds up for a fresh audience! I definitely recommend the original and the movie. The movie’s a lot more focused on the flashy, glamourous side of the story, but I still enjoyed it. I hope you like.

  4. Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books

    I bought a copy of The Great Gatsby last summer after seeing it on sale and realizing I haven’t returned to it since I read it for high school English. And I actually just saw the Baz Luhrmann’s film version on tv the other day, which again reminded me I need to re-read the book. In general I like re familiarizing myself with the source material before reading a retelling, and it definitely sounds as though it would work to my benefit with this one! I like being able to see details of just how an author has changed the original story or played with it, you know? This definitely sounds quite intriguing – I’ll have to check it out!
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    • Meg Morley

      I totally feel you on the comparison between originals and retellings. I like seeing what people felt the need to keep/drop, emphasize/deemphasize, etc. Have fun with you’re reread, Gatsby is one of the few high school lit books I not only enjoyed but have reread multiple times since then.

  5. Shannelle C.

    I never got interested to read The Great Gatsby. Never at all, mostly because I never got what it was about. I know there’s some person who learns about this Gatsby person. Is it a good read?

    And I’m just really wondering now if I should try it without having read the original. I want to try it, just for the sake of seeing if I can understand it. But then, you did mention it was hard to separate it from the source material.

    Dilemma. >.<
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    • Meg Morley

      The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite classics. It’s set in the 1920s and it’s about a guy (Nick) who makes friends with his super-rich, over-the-top neighbor during a summer in Long Island. The overall theme can esentially be boiled down to ‘money can’t buy happiness.’ It’s a great read.

      As for reading Great without Gatsby, I’ve heard mixed things. I think if the whole dark flipside to the lifestyles of the rich and the famous theme appeals to you, it’s worth checking out. Hope that helps!

  6. Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    Friendly friend, I need to reread Gatsby. I watched some of the movie, and I was honestly not that impressed, but hey that happens.

    This sounds like a pretty fucking awesome REtelling. Like, I think it’s cool when they can take something and redo it pretty much exactly but put a brand new spin on it. That’s tough.

    Also, lesbians just because. And gender-swapping. I definitely want to read this someday, far in the future probably.
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