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Estelle: Great by Sara Benincasa

Great by Sara BenincasaGreat by Sara Benincasa ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 272
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: classic retelling, Hamptons, high society, being the outsider, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Naomi is off to spend the summer with her mother in the Hamptons. As always, she’s completely dreading it because she just doesn’t fit in there. Not with her mom’s rich “friends” or any of the other kids who hang out there. But this summer feels different because of her next door neighbor, Jacinta. She’s throwing elaborate parties, befriending Naomi (to get close to Delilah but still), and suddenly, Naomi is feeling like she is a part of things. But what is real and what is not?

There’s nothing like clicking with a narrator like I did with Naomi.

Her voice was so vividly judgy — I was immediately wrapped up in her story and the indignation she felt about her annual summer plans: the Hamptons to visit her mom where quality time meant hearing her mom complain about her clothes and push her to socialize with the well-connected kids her age. (Delilah and Teddy tolerate her, mostly. But she does not fit into their posh lifestyle at all.) It’s no shock that all Naomi wants to do is study and survive until she can get back to her best friend and dad in Chicago.

So it’s as much of a surprise to her, when Naomi is suddenly giving her mother a little bit of what she wants — getting invited to parties, wearing expensive dresses, going on dates with Jeff (whose dad owns a record label), and girlishly texting with Delilah. This switch in behavior is all thanks to Jacinta, the girl next door who has the means to throw the most excessive parties and maintains a highly-visited fashion blog that everyone wants to get featured on. Naomi is curious about her at first, but almost immediately takes a liking to her — even introducing her to Delilah (Jacinta’s #1 goal for the summer).

This is where things start to intensify because Jacinta and Delilah’s bond is — BOOM — super close, super quick and they are totally inseparable. Delilah is hardly seeing Teddy, Jacinta and Delilah aren’t including Naomi, and when Naomi does manage to see Jacinta, her every thought is wrapped up in Delilah.

Their behavior is bordering on obsessive, and it’s changing the dynamics of the group in a huge, dramatic way.

Most of all, it’s baffling what so many people in this story are willing to sacrifice because they don’t think the rules (of the world!) apply to them. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, and it’s tremendously effed up. Naomi is caught in the storm of all of this, and as she skirts the line between these “two” realities, her character is forced to make super tough decisions. Great is so well-paced, the tension is built so tightly, I literally could not put the book down — debating right and wrong, and who the true villain of this story was.

I definitely empathized with Jacinta and rooted for her in a way that I don’t remember doing with Gatsby. It’s tremendous how far she is willing to go for acceptance and for love. I didn’t blame Naomi for being so torn over her friendship with her and I loved the author’s choice of creating an internet maven out of Jacinta — oh, the great dangers and advantages of the world wide web. Without it, this story wouldn’t have existed.

Truth be told, it’s been a really long time since I read The Great Gatsby (I haven’t seen the latest Leo movie either) but Benincasa got my memory rolling and I was so excited (this is geeky) to pick out the parallels between the classic and Great. (Favorite detail, hands down, was how she named each character by using the first initial of the character’s name from the original.) Best of all, my familiarity with the original text in no way affected how hooked I was to this story.

Committing to a modern Gatsby retelling for young adults couldn’t have been an easy task and with the exception of a few too-modern references that I didn’t think would stand the test of time, I couldn’t have asked for a better crafted book to save me from a reading slump and get me excited about a new author.

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May 27, 2014 - 8:01 am

Review: Great by Sara Benincasa | wrapped up in books - […] Estelle at Rather Be Reading: “Her voice was so vividly judgy — I was immediately wrapped up in her story and the indignation she felt about her annual summer plans: the Hamptons to visit her mom where quality time meant hearing her mom complain about her clothes and push her to socialize with the well-connected kids her age.”  […]

April 5, 2014 - 6:15 pm

Katy - This sounds good! I haven’t read Gatsby in a long time either, but this sounds like it does a good job hitting the same points. The internet maven aspect definitely sounds intriguing! I might have to check this one out at some point!

March 28, 2014 - 4:30 am

The Bookish Manicurist - I’m so glad you enjoyed this, and Naomi, so much! I’ve been to keen read this because Sara’s writing is so clever and I enjoy her columns.

March 28, 2014 - 1:02 am

Alexa S. - I liked Great! It was a lot more compelling than I remember The Great Gatsby being, probably because the details (though outlandish) were relatable too (especially the fashion blog part). I do feel like the emotions I felt when reading this and watching the latest version of The Great Gatsby (where Leo was excellent) were similar in intensity and thoughtfulness, and I loved that!

March 27, 2014 - 11:23 am

Tiff @ Mostly YA Lit - This is very, very interesting…I normally agree with you on almost all your picks, Estelle, but I didn’t connect to the protag like you did. Maybe because I’m too close to The Great Gatsby as a book? I don’t know…I did love Jacinta, and I felt more for her than I did for Jay Gatsby in the original. And yet, something was missing for me.

I must commend you, though, on your description of Naomi’s voice as “vividly judgy”! That’s EXACTLY what it was, haha!

March 26, 2014 - 10:38 pm

Cassie G - This cover immediately drew me in, and I knew it was going to be one I wanted for my shelf. Love that you loved it, and I’m definitely putting it on my to-watch list so I remember to get it!

March 26, 2014 - 7:58 pm

Rachel - This sounds soooooo good. I downloaded from EW a while back and kind of wrote it off because of the cover, but I’m totally reading it.

March 26, 2014 - 10:10 am

Stormy - I really enjoyed this one too! It made a lot of the same societal commentary that the original Gatsby did(though I don’t think it went to the same lengths as the original). It was fascinating, albeit disheartening, to watch a group of people think they could get away with anything and the silent condemnation. It would be really interesting to read this one and re-read The Great Gatsby.

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