Author: Sara Benincasa

ARC: GREAT by Sara Benincasa

Posted on 02/24/2014 in Book Review / 4 Comments

ARC: GREAT by Sara BenincasaGREAT by Sara Benincasa
Published by Harper Teen on 4/8/2014
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
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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.

\r\nEveryone loves a good scandal.\r\n\r\nNaomi 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.\r\n\r\nBased 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.

Folks, this right here is how you re-tell great literature.

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My favorite classic that I ever read was the Great Gatsby.  Admittedly the last time I read it was in high school, which was a long time ago, and the specific details escape me now, but the general tone of the novel stuck with me.  Sara Benincasa did a fabulous job drawing great parallels between the classic novel and her re-telling of Great Gatsby.

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Naomi has been sent to the Hamptons to “summer” once more with her mother, who is on the cusp of breaking into mega-fame as a famous baker.  She hates summering in the Hamptons and she doesn’t particularly care for her mother, who is mostly just a social-climber more concerned with Naomi making the right kind of friends than good grades.  Naomi prefers her down-to-earth life with her basketball coach father in Chicago (and I don’t blame her).

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But this summer proves to be different: she becomes closer with Delilah Fairweather, daughter to a congressman and socialite, Delilah’s boyfriend Teddy Barrington and Teddy’s friend Jeff His-last-name-escapes-me.  The four of them sort of become the odd double-daters: Delilah and Teddy fight in restaurants, while Naomi watches uncomfortably and Jeff pokes fun at the situations.

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Enter Jacinda Trimalchio (nice nod to one of Fitzgerald’s original title ideas!), fashion blogger extraordinaire.  Jacinda is mysterious, wealthy and without her parents, a sure-to-be-hit in that town.  She’s also very interested in getting to know Delilah Fairweather, and while she seemed very nice throughout the entire novel, it was obvious she had an obsessive quality.

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There is so much in this story that depicts the darker side of being wealthy and rich:  people want to know you, they want to get close to you, you date individuals based on their pedigrees and not because you particularly like them.  GREAT showed rich talking down to the poor, even when they were being nice.  I don’t mean this to sound preachy at all, but the protagonist’s point of view called out often how she noticed these things.  And if I remember correctly, these themes were in Gatsby as well.

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The characters are all vibrant, not flat, and when I think of them, I think of someone I would see on an outrageous TV show or movie, somewhere I would say to myself, “this can’t be real life.”  But things like “Hinge at the waist!” mockery does happen.  Ultimately, the darker side prevails, which you can guess if you’ve read Gatsby.  It was fascinating to see the parallels, and the LGBT twist as well.

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GREAT is fab.  Even when I loathed the characters, I still really liked them, because Benincasa writes them so well.  And I think I’d drown myself in a lazy river pool if I had a mother like Naomi’s.  Between the parties, Naomi’s self-reflections as she gets sucked further into the rich-kid world while acquiescing to her mother, the drama between Delilah, Teddy and Jacinda, I just couldn’t put it down.  I did want to know what happened “after”, but I guess that’s sometimes just left to the readers’ imaginations.

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Well done, Sara Benincasa.

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About Sara Benincasa

Sara Benincasa is an award-winning comedian and author of the book "Agorafabulous!", from William Morrow (a division of HarperCollins), a book based on her critically acclaimed solo show about panic attacks and agoraphobia. She blogs for Jezebel and XOJane. Sara is currently working on her second and third books, both YA novels. "Great" will be released in the United States in April 2014; the ARC is currently available via Edelweiss.

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