It was pretty Great.
I only got around to reading The Great Gatsby earlier this year (or late last year, either way), after starting it many a time and always finding it too dull. In the end, I think it was only Tom Hiddleston’s Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris that for whatever reason persuaded me to really attempt to read the a actual F Scott’s work.
This did mean that the storyline was still fairly fresh in my head when I read Great, which was both good and bad, I suppose – when something is based in some way on a book that you have read, it is hard not to constantly be pulling comparisons between the two – not in terms of quality, necessarily, but in terms of ‘so when is THIS part going to happen?’.
Full disclosure – my strange time spent in NYC in 2009 intersected with Sara’s world a couple of times, so I can admit slight bias and excitement about the release of this title. However, this intersection was mostly limited to seeing her stand up (comedy, not the action of standing up) and having tequila brunch at her apartment with many other folks.
So, onwards with the reviewishness, then.
I actually did really enjoy it (as my super witty first line would have you believe). It reads as Gossip Girl but smarter. There is a little more time dedicated to intricate descriptions of characters’ appearances, which seems a little at odds with the personality that the protagonist, Naomi, otherwise portrays. At times, I really blanched at her ‘hey, this Marc Jacobs Dress #33208 actually is pretty okay. My mother isn’t the worst person in the world, okay, I admit it’ act – but in saying that, she’s a teenage girl. When I was seventeen, I may have revered The White Stripes (and The Cure, actually, so Naomi and I had that in common), but I also had moments where I was guilty of flicking through glossy magazines lusting over the latest fancy outfit of the week. In that sense, perhaps the sentiments would ring more true with the teen audience that this is aimed at than my ever-so-slightly more mature twenty-something self.
I know some people have been quick to go ‘ugh, LGBT gimmick’, but I appreciated it – and here goes full confession time – having lived and experienced the mutual obsessive girl-on-girl relationship that Jacinta and Delilah experience.
Does that count as a spoiler? For the book, not my life, I mean. Even before I read Gatsby, I knew the gist of what happened. Anyway.
I appreciated that one of the few voices of reason was Naomi’s Chicagoan best mate Skags, described by Naomi as butch but evidently having a self-described ‘boi’ style. I kind of love that she calls herself Skags – and let’s be honest, if your name was Tiffani, wouldn’t you ditch that name as soon as you started discovering your badass boi self? I’m going to go out on a assumptive limb here and say that the most widely read YA author of the moment with explicitly queer main characters is probably David Levithan (of Will Grayson, Will Grayson co-authorship fame as well as his own titles including Boy Meets Boy) – it’s nice to have female queer characters in the spotlight, even if Naomi herself is an ally rather than gay herself (as she makes explicitly clear on a few occasions… we get it, okay?).
The whole plot arc of the book does actually seem better fitted to teens than the adults of the original. The shenanigans and devil-may-care attitudes of Fitzgerald’s characters are noteworthy for their excess and awfulness – but in when put in the perspective of teenagers, you suddenly have a group of young people still learning the ways of the world, forcing (some) of the actions into a slightly more ambiguous moral area. Because we all do stupid things as teenagers.
Overall? From a bookseller perspective, I would definitely recommend it to kids and/or parents. It’s Gatsby but palatable, and somewhat socially aware, in some ways, anyway. It’s not necessarily a must-read for older fans of YA among us, but it’s a quick and easy read, so definitely worth the time put into it (time perspective – it had arrived during the day yesterday, I read a fair bit last night and then finished it this morning). And from a publishing geek perspective, it is a BEAUTIFUL hardback, which I’m not used to as an antipodean (NZ/AU releases are often in trade paperback, not hardback) – I imagine that if it does get a release beyond North America, that we will probably get a TP or PB, so I’m glad that I got in early and grabbed a hardback. For a first novel, it is a valiant effort. I’m Team Benincasa for life.
So go hit up your local indie bookseller and buy it, okay?