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Great by Sara BenincasaTitle: Great
Author: Sara Benincasa
ISBN: 9780062222695
No. of Pages: 272
Genre: Fiction; Young Adult
Origins: HarperTeen
Release Date: 8 April 2014
Bottom Line: Generic retelling of The Great Gatsby

“Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother at her East Hampton home. And this year is no different. Naomi sticks out like a sore thumb with her Chicago accent and her Doc Martens, and she has no patience for the snooty sons and daughters of the mega rich.

But despite her reluctance to join the lavish social circle, Naomi is captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. The extravagant parties Jacinta throws are the social events of the summer, and loner Naomi suddenly finds herself with not only a new best friend but a possibly-could-be-probably boyfriend. But Jacinta has her own reasons for drawing close to Naomi, and they include the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather, a family friend of Naomi’s and Upper East Side royalty.

As the summer days slip by, Naomi discovers that 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.”

Thoughts: Retellings need to be careful that they incorporate something unique and different to set them apart from their original influences. Unfortunately, Great is missing that unique difference. In fact, there is really nothing original about the story at all. Any differences are generic, like the changing of genders of the main characters and their names. Even the same-sex love affair at the heart of the story feels predictable and somewhat stale. The rest of the story is just too similar to ignore, as it buffers that fine line between a modern-day retelling and just a regular copy of a classic.

While glimpses into the lives of the fantastically wealthy are usually interesting, there is little to enjoy about the fabulously wealthy in Great. They are just so shallow and uninteresting. It is like watching an episode of Jersey Shore for the insanely rich and powerful, which is not a recommendation. There is the ubiquitous drugs, alcohol, sex, and general disregard for the rules because the kids’ parents make those rules. The sense of entitlement is sickening, especially because it occurs in kids who have nothing to recommend them other than the family into which they were born.

Naomi could have been the one bright spot within the narrative. In fact, she is meant to be just that as she recognizes the sycophancy to which her new crowd is accustom to experiencing. However, as she too falls under their thrall, Naomi becomes less interesting. She is just like everyone else and as such loses her normal-girl credentials that she loves to cite as the reasons why she is so different from her new friends. It is a disappointing transformation and one that intimates that Fitzgerald’s story really does not translate well with teenage protagonists.

Great is not really all that great. It tries too hard to be a refreshing update of The Great Gatsby, complete with not-so-sly nods to the original. It ultimately does not succeed in that endeavor. It misses the wit and sparkle of the original as well as its surprises. While it is still an entertaining story and one that may have more relevance to modern teens, one can never outdo Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

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