Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

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I received this book for free from HarperTeen 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
Published by HarperTeen on April 8th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Retellings, YA
Source: HarperTeen
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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.

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.

What a weird book this was.  I have to be honest and preface everything I am about to say by letting you know that I have never read The Great Gatsby.  I know nothing of what it is about, all I know is that Leonardo DiCaprio recently starred in a movie version about it that I have not seen.  Naturally I won’t be able to compare GREAT to the source material at all but I can talk about the book for what it is.  So what was it? Well, it was a contemporary tale about richie rich Hamptons kids who use “summer” as a verb and it had little vines of mystery snaking into the story here and there.  I had fun reading it, but I am not too certain that I necessarily liked much of what I read.

Naomi has spent her summers with her mother in the Hamptons ever since her parents got divorced.  Living in Chicago with her father she leads a regular life; her dad is a high school basketball coach and they don’t lead the most lavish of lifestyles.  Everything changes when she goes away for the summer, she flies in helicopters, eats at the fanciest of restaurants and lives in her mother’s giant house.  In the beginning of the book Naomi is pretty much anti-anything-to-do-with-her-mother and I liked that about her.  She went to this fancy place and didn’t care what anyone thought, she stayed true to herself and was above all the bullshit.  But somewhere in the novel that changed, she did a complete 180.  She started wearing Marc Jacobs, getting into vehicles with drunk people and dating a guy that was an ass.  I think that was one of my main issues with this novel. Naomi’s character began to contradict who she was presented to be so often, it was a constant back and forth with this girl and I felt like I never got a feel for who she was. One could argue that this book was about her delving into that life and realizing that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but she was thinking one thing and doing another so it just felt like lacklustre character building to me.

While on the topic of character building I want to talk about Naomi’s best friend from back home, Skags (yeah, why would anyone choose to be called that, right?)  She wasn’t that prevalent in the story, Naomi would just call here now and then and was constantly thinking about how she would react to things that were going on.  What bothered me about her addition to the story was the fact that I felt like all that defined her was that she was a lesbian.  I’m not sure how I felt about the novels handling of homosexuality at all, it seemed like it was something people did for fun?  I don’t even really want to go into this because I don’t represent the group that was being misrepresented here at all but every time Naomi thought something about someone being gay or other people said stuff about it, it really rubbed me the wrong way.  Now, this isn’t usually something that bugs me and maybe it was just because so much of the book had already bugged me but looking back on my reading experience with GREAT this was a real sore spot for me.

Not much happens in the novel until the last 30 pages really.  What kept me going was my fascination with reading stories/watching movies & TV shows about the rich and famous.  I love seeing the drama unfold and I knew there was something really weird going on with Jacinta from the very beginning.  The big grand finale left me underwhelmed as we are left still not really knowing who to trust.  I don’t think this is one you should be sad about missing this spring, if you really want to read it go for it, but I’m sure there are much better books on your TBR.


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17 Responses to “Review: Great by Sara Benincasa”

  1. Rosie @ Rosie Reads

    Oh no… I was actually a little excited about this one. I had to read The Great Gatsby in high school AND watch the old movie. I believe the new movie is better though (I admit I have a soft spot for DiCaprio). And I read the book again last year before the new movie came out.
    Honestly though, the main character sounds a LOT like Daisy from the Great Gatsby. You think she’s one person, and then she does a 180 and you hate her. A lot. She flip-flops around.
    I might give this book a try anyway, only when it gets pulled from my TBR box, though. Thanks for the review! At least I won’t be too surprised if I don’t like it 🙂

  2. Leanna

    I have heard this one works better if you’re familiar with the source material. I can see why that would be the case, but I also feel that maybe this one doesn’t read so well as its own book, which I guess is not a great thing! I think this one sounds like fun, but I have seen a bunch of mixed reviews for it.

  3. Nick @ Nick's Book Blog

    I have this one coming up for review soon and I can’t say I’m too excited anymore. I’ve read and watched The Great Gatsby and I can’t say I’m a huge fan though. I think I’ll go into the book having low expectations. It’s such a shame that Naomi’s character does a 180 and she does it for the worse.
    And I don’t think I would appreciate the handling of the homosexuality in the book either. That’s why I tend to stay away from books that typically handled such matters. They tend to be stereotypical and that makes me mad.
    Great review, Jenni!

  4. Pili

    Like you, I haven’t read The Great Gatsby and reading a retelling of it is not high on my list, since I actually feel like I need to read TGG first.
    I wasn’t very interested in this book to begin with and after your review, I know I’m not going to bother with it.
    Great review, Jenni!

  5. Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

    I haven’t read The Great Gatsby since High School (and honestly don’t remember it) but this doesn’t sounds all that thrilling. I honestly have something on my TBR that sounds somewhat similar to these but has a more gothic vibe…I sure hope it’s better than this one….

  6. Rashika

    Like you.. the only thing I know about The Great Gatsby is that Leo starred in the movie that came out recently 😛

    I already don’t like Naomi from reading your review .-. I hate it when characters seem to undergo personality transplants and can never make up their mind about what it is they want. I like the sound of her at the beginning but it’s a pity that changes. Also I am kind of enraged by that kind of portrayal of GLBT community… WHY? -.-

    Great review, Jenni!! 🙂

  7. Anatea

    I was really hoping this book would be kind of amazing. Just like you, I didn’t read The Great Gatsby, but I watched the movie and I loved it, so I was really hoping I would like it. But I see what your points are, and I guess I wouldn’t like those things either. I think I will be skipping this one.

  8. Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain

    I haven’t read The Great Gatsby, but if I want to read this one, then I’d probably read the original first just to get a taste of what the corruption is really like. I feel like a teenager going through what Gatsby does in the book is so hard to properly handle, especially if Naomi begins to turn into a superficial character that directly contradicts who she usually is perceived to be. Fantastic review, though, Jenni! <33

  9. Kayla @ The Thousand Lives

    I enjoy the Great Gatsby as far as the story goes, but the writing style kills it for me. So I was kind of excited when I read the synopsis for this one (and I’ll admit – the girl’s makeup is just flawless and I need a youtube video to teach me how to do those wings) because I like the whole drama aspect of it. But I’ll probably skip it now – I can’t stand petty main characters.

  10. Jeanne Darc

    Huhu Giselle and Jenni

    You really have a great blog. I like the kind of booky you read and how you share your oppnion with us (your readers). I follow your blog since 2 months and I have read all your posts, but now creat myself a account by bloglovin and follow your Blog!
    Go on wiht such geat Posts!

    Regards from Austria

    Im also a Blogger since 2 monts perhaps you are intrested in visting my blog, it is in german but I have a widget from googel that translate into englisch (it doesn’t work well but it work^^)

  11. Amy @ Book Loving Mom

    I have this one for review, but I am nervous about it since I have seen a lot of not great reviews for it. I am also amazed and relieved to see that a lot of the reviewers have not read The Great Gatsby. I haven’t either and was feeling like one of the only people in the world that hasn’t. I’m sorry this didn’t quite work for you. Naomi sounds like a character that will get on my nerves also. Thanks for the honest review Jenni!!