Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

March 13, 2014 book review 14

Great by Sara Benincasa

Great by Sara Benincasa

Release Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 272
Format read: ebook ARC
Source: publisher

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.

To describe GREAT by Sara Benincasa in one word, I’d have to simply say it was, well, great! All puns aside, this book was everything I hoped it would be and more. Doing a retelling of the classic THE GREAT GATSBY is no easy task but I’d say that Benincasa conquered that feat quite well.

As part of her parent’s divorce agreement, Naomi Rye is forced to leave her comfortable Chicago home to visit her mother every summer in the Hamptons. Her mother is a world famous Food Network star and that means Naomi is forced to attend lots of socialite parties that she could care nothing about. She figures this is going to be another one of those boring and stifling summers, that is until she meets her next-door neighbor, fashion blogger Jacinta. Jacinta has a lot of disposable income and she isn’t afraid to spend it on lavish parties at her home. Only the best of the best are invited and only the best people in the business are allowed to carter and decorate. Everything about Jacinta is a mystery to Naomi and as the secrets start coming out, so does the unraveling of her and Jacinta’s life.

I loved Naomi from the second she started narrating. She’s one of those girls who could not care a thing about fashion, who is dating whom, what parties are happening, etc. She’d rather stay at home with a book. My kind of friend right there! She’s got a bit of a snarky sarcastic attitude towards those types of people that I just loved. You can tell she is a genuine person and isn’t going to pretend to be somebody she isn’t to get into other’s social graces. Jacinta was my second favorite character. She’s such a wildcard, you never are sure what she has up her sleeves. She’s a big celebrity but is a character that you only want the best for. You know she has her secrets, as does everyone, but underneath her fashionista facade is a great human being with a back-story that will have you rooting for her no matter what.

One of those most recognizable things about THE GREAT GATSBY is the setting. And Benincasa hit the nail on the head with this. There’s the glitz, the glamour, drama, and over dramatization of life in the Hamptons that rings so true to the original book. I loved it! Each outfit described and every party Jacinta threw was bigger and better than the last one. I could easily visualize what these looked like and they were something spectacular, that is for sure. As Benincasa put it, GREAT “is light and fluffy on one level.” And that is spot on. It’s a cute contemporary about a girl discovering herself, branching out, becoming friends with people she wouldn’t normally be friends with, possibly falling in love, and having an extraordinary summer.

But on the other hand, Benincasa really digs deep into various social issues and pressures, and the storyline does get a bit tragic and devastating. Everyone seems to have a perfect life living in the spotlight but that’s never the case. While Jacinta appears to be living a fabulous life, there are other things going on that we don’t even know about until it’s almost too late. It shows that you never really know how deeply someone is affected by certain actions. The author explores social pressures like drinking, bullying, doing the right thing in a difficult situation, going against friends if it’s the right thing to do, being in toxic relationships and how to get out of them, and having the spotlight on you at all times. There’s this deeper element to this book that was so well done, it added greater risks to the novel and kept things real.

GREAT was everything I was expecting from a retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY and more. The characters were all teenagers, went through teenager-y things, and were extremely relatable. The plot had me from page one and never lost my attention. You know going into it, especially if you’ve read THE GREAT GATSBY, that something tragic is probably going to happen. And even though I did expect this, it broke my heart when it happened. But yet the book ended on such a hopeful note, I felt okay. If you want to escape into a lavish society where money trumps all for just a little while, GREAT is the book you need to pick up!

5 Thought Clouds!

I received an ebook ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!


14 Responses to “Review: Great by Sara Benincasa”

  1. Natalie Natflixandbooks

    Oh, good, I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I was both excited and weary when I first found out about this book. A retelling of one of the great (ahem) American novels is quite a daunting task. I’m going to admit that I’m glad there’s some tragedy. It wouldn’t be right if it was all roses. That cover is so amazing, too. I love the cat-eyes and the color scheme. Great review!

    • Christine P

      Yeah, I completely agree. I saw it on EW and figured I’d give it a shot, not really thinking it would go that great. But it blew me away. There was so much depth and there was just the right mixture of fluff and tragedy. You should read it!

  2. Summer McDaniel

    GREAT was great, huh? And such a great review…okay, I’ll stop 😉 I can’t wait to read this one even more now! I thought it sounded really interesting, but the narrator? On point, my kind of characters. Snarky and the kind who doesn’t give a crap. Love! And the fact that author combines so many great aspects…where’s my copy?! 🙂

    • Christine P

      Heh yes it was 😉 I really hope you love it as much as I did! I’m going to be pushing people to buy this book for weeks. And Naomi was such a great character!

  3. Susan T.

    I think retelling a classic is such a hard thing to do so I’m glad to hear that this one is really good. I’m hoping to pick it up soon!

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