Great by Sara Benincasa

greatGreat by Sara Benincasa

Great is a stand along, YAY!!!

3/5

Overview

This is a re-telling of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Naomi spends her summer in the Hamptons with her media mogul mother.  She befriends Delilah and her boyfriend Teddy, Jeff, and Jacinta.  She has the most memorable summer ever.  If you read The Great Gatsby, you know the story.

The Good

  • For younger teens, this book is a good introduction to The Great Gatsby. For upperclassmen, who have read the original, Great is a good book to make parallels.
  • Like the original, there are several themes and lessons.  Excess, the have & the have-nots, etc.
  • The cover is good.

The Bad (Contains Spoilers)

Let’s begin with the Gatsby character-Her name is Jacinta Trimalchio.  Nothing about that great gif1name says sexy or regal.  Jay Gatsby is a sexy name. I couldn’t even pronounce that name.  I know the original book was to be called Trimachio (thanks Wikipedia) but there’s a reason Fitzgerald changed it, it’s terrible.

Jay Gatsby was elusive and mysterious.  He is a sexy, magnanimous man with a huge     personality.  Jacinta is introduced too early which doesn’t give the reader enough time to fantasize about what she’ll be like.  No one knows who Gatsby is at his own party but everyone knows Jacinta.

Jay exudes power.  When he and Nick has lunch at the club, he’s the most powerful man in the room, at least that’s how it’s written.  In this scene in Great, Jacinta get giddy when the Vogue lady notices her.  That makes her lose a lot of her influence.

Jay’s parties are the best part of the book/movies.  Nick is a spectator in the beginning which builds suspense about Gatsby and his grand parties.  Naomi is invited to the first party.  The Great Gatsby is set in the 20’s during the Jazz era and Gatsby’s parties reflect that.  Jacinta’s parties have a 20’s theme with a carnival.  I think that the party should reflect present day.  I know people have Gatsby themed parties, but I don’t think this book should have done that.  It should have been a mustache party or a zombie party.  Something that’s indicative of today.

  • The Other Characters

Naomi (Nick) is boring.  Nick idolizes Gatsby and gets caught up in his fancy world.  Naomi begins as a non-conformist and when she begins to conform, she becomes a hypocrite. She eventually finds herself again.  If I remember the original correctly, Nick does find himself again but he doesn’t begin as an all black wearing hipster.  So when Nick returns to his true self, it’s a lesson to the reader.  Naomi isn’t snarky or funny enough.  The only time she’s funny is when she ridicules her mother in front of other people.

Delilah (Daisy) is also a snooze-fest.  Daisy is a terrible person. She ignores Tom’s infidelity, she’s materialistic, she leaves Gatsby because he’s a bootlegger, and she lets him take the fall for the murder.  Delilah isn’t terrible enough. She’s tolerable and she shouldn’t be.  She should be annoying and stupid and selfish like Daisy.

Teddy (Tom) isn’t evil enough.  In the original, Nick and Tom are old friends and they hang out together.  You really get to see how Tom treats subordinates and how he abuses Myrtle.  Because the Nick character is a girl and doesn’t hang out with Teddy, we don’t get to see his interactions with Misti (Myrtle).  Naomi and Teddy rarely have private conversations so we don’t get to see what an ass he is.  Benincasa tries to make up for this at the big dinner scene, but it is too late. We don’t even get to see Teddy and Misti together and when he sees her dead on the side of the road, the audience doesn’t feel bad for Teddy’s loss.  Misti only has a couple of scenes and we don’t get to see how other-side-of-the-tracks (billboard) she is and we don’t feel sorry for her.  When she is murdered, I felt nothing.

Jeff (Jordan) is the most interesting character but that’s not saying much.  He’s the comic relief character but he’s not very funny.  There is a point in the novel when the audience knows there’s more than friendship between Jacinta and Delilah and Jeff sees it too.  Instead of saying it, he says they are weird.  Teens are verbally brutal and often use insensitive words.  This book is full of F words but Jeff never says the homophobic insensitive slurs that we all know teens use.  I think Benincasa didn’t want Jeff to be an ass, but at the same time; it wasn’t realistic.  If you are going to write teen characters who drink, do drugs, and have sex then go for it.  Don’t sugar coat it.

  • The Overall Story

It uses present day pop culture like Facebook, Vimeo, CNN, Chris Mathews, The Food Network, etc.  This doesn’t make the book timeless.  Facebook could be non-existent in 5 years, like MySpace, and readers won’t know what it is.  Because it isn’t timeless, it will only be relevant for a couple of years and then it will get weeded off library shelves across the US.  If Benincasa didn’t use pop-culture references, this book could potentially live on just like the original book.  The themes in the book are timeless and it could live on longer than Vimeo.

I didn’t like that Jacinta committed suicide.  It would have been more interesting if she was murdered like the original.  I cried when Gatsby died but I felt nothing for Jacinta. Perhaps if Jacinta’s love for Delilah had been written better, the audience could be sad for Jacinta.

The major problem is that you don’t feel the love between Jacinta and Delilah.  Because the story is told by an outsider looking in, it’s hard to convey the love between other characters but Fitzgerald manages to do it.  Jay loves Daisy and the reader can feel it, that’s why the book is such a tragedy.  Jay uses Nick to get to Daisy and Nick serves as the chaperone.   He is always on their dates and he’s telling the audience what he sees.  Naomi doesn’t chaperone their dates and the audience doesn’t feel Jacinta’s love for Delilah.  I also think it could have been written better.  The dialogues could have been deeper. The narrator could have been more insightful.

There’s also a missed opportunity to use contemporary teen issues such as the obsession with reality tv, perfection, and wealth.  Teddy is a sitcom star.  Maybe it would have been more interesting if he was a reality tv star.  This story has several lesbian characters and there is still an issue with homosexuality among teens in this country.   Teens still get bullied at school, parent disown their gay children but Benincasa doesn’t touch on this.

Overall

This book is a missed opportunity for so much more.  It could have really dealt with contemporary teen issues.  Benincasa did change the story a bit from the original, which is good.  I will buy the book for the library.

Book Clubs for Tweens/Teens-

Please stop reading if you don’t want to see spoilers!!!

I do this b/c I am a librarian that runs a book discussion group for 5th-7th grade. Parents of younger teens are expecting librarians to pick clean books and it is helpful to know if the book is okay for middle school.  Otherwise, I am all for Intellectual Freedom.

  • This novel is LGBTQ
  • There is drug abuse and alcohol consumption among teens
  • There are several F words
  • There is a suicide
  • Recommended for 10th grade and over

 

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2 thoughts on “Great by Sara Benincasa

    • Thanks for visiting. I will buy for my collection and because The Great Gatsby is required reading in my high school district; I’ll recommend it to my teens. Good luck on the launch!

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