Cover Image: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful

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An unexpected smash hit of a read. The author deconstructs The Great Gatsby tale and reinvents it for a 21st century audience. I think my students are going to love this!!
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One of the things I've always loved about <i>The Great Gatsby</i> is that it is the one piece of classic literature that I've consistently enjoyed throughout my life, and with it, I can see how my opinions have changed and matured over the years. As a teenager, I was annoyed that Jordan Baker added extra (assigned) words to a clearly tragic yet beautiful pining love story (high school Me definitely thought a toxic relationship was a good one, but that's another story). In my early 20s, I labelled Jordan Baker as a selfish gossip, thinking that her presence on the outskirts of the main story made her distant, cold, and unlikable. Now that I'm damn near 30, I realize that Jordan was just a bad bitch living her best life, staying out of other people's business (but of course being entertained by it), and was only forced because Nick was an incompetent goof. 

This is where The Chosen and the Beautiful comes in. This was the Jordan-focused retelling that I NEEDED, and it couldn't have come at a better time in my own self-development. Jordan in this retelling lived up to the hype -- she was Asian, queer, and had a magical ability -- but ultimately, it was the story that let me down. Jordan's paper magic felt misplaced and undeveloped (though it could leave room for a sequel?), the dramatic build of Gatsby as darker and antagonistic really fell flat for me, and the "twist" towards the end just didn't really seem necessary or relevant. I know that Vo was confined to a plot that wasn't her own, but I definitely found myself craving more drama, demons, and magic than what was presented so matter-of-factly. 

At the end of the day, of course, I enjoyed getting an extra layer to these characters I already know so well and loved the opportunity of seeing the same events through another characters eyes, so it was ultimately worth it.
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This is a brilliant retelling of The Great Gatsby that keeps all the core themes of the original-- wealth and class disparity, the hollowness of wealth during the 1920's-- and updates them while somehow also creating a world that is very true to the 1920's, and includes the marginalized people the original (and the time period) excluded-- queer people, Asian Americans, immigrants. I can already see people dismissing it when they hear "queer, Asian American, Great Gatsby retelling with magic" as some kind of attempt to make the original more cool and diverse for no reason, but that's ABSOLUTELY not what's happening here. It's a twist on the original that stays true to the story while expanding it beyond any scope the original could have dreamed of. It's a truly amazing book.
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I cannot believe this is a debut novel. It’s too good. Nghi Vo deconstructs The Great Gatsby and puts it back together in a truly Picasso-esque way where it’s both more bizarre and more beautiful than the original. Told from Jordan’s perspective, this story is a gin-soaked romp through the lives of characters we already know and (kinda) love, but Jordan’s is a biting and skeptical presence. Vo touches on the queer identities of Jordan, Gatsby, and Nick, and through Jordan’s eyes as an adopted Vietnamese woman, offers insightful commentary on discrimination and xenophobia, while also heightening Fitzgerald’s themes of social stratification and hedonism. And honestly, even if the novel had sucked, the writing was so *chefs kiss* that I would have read it anyway.
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I first read The Great Gatsby, as most do, in a high school English course. Teenaged-me enjoyed it for what it was to me then, a tragic and timeless tale of love and loss. Later in life, I found myself having to teach the text to a high school English class. It was then that Gatsby opened up to me in a whole new way, as books have a habit of doing when one re-reads them in a different time and place in their life. I fell in love with the mystic of Jay Gatsby, the futility of his dream, and the commentary on class, corruption, & capitalism that lingers just beneath the surface. With every reading of The Great Gatsby, I found something undiscovered to fall in love with, and despite the flaws of the original, every time I taught the book to my students, they taught me something new about the text. (I won’t deny that many of them didn’t share my wonder with the text, but many of them did.) Their revelations ranged from a contrasting take on characters to a fundamentally different understanding of Fitzgerald’s core message, but they taught me to continually see the text in a new light. 

The Chosen and The Beautiful feels like rereading The Great Gatsby in a new light. It is a superb retelling that is in conversation with the original, yet it stands strong as a text in its own right.

Nghi Vo’s retelling, which sticks to the plot of the original story, adds to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s text in a way that feels both fitting and overdue. Themes and issues that are given little attention in The Great Gatsby are given ample time to grow and develop. The viewpoint character of Jordan Baker allows The Chosen and The Beautiful to address themes of race, gender, and sexuality that were mostly absent in the original. Vo does a brilliant job of using dialogue, descriptions, themes, and motifs from the original, but adds her own twist, often magnifying and exposing these ideas. One that stuck out to me was the intersection of violence, money, and power. Jordan’s backstory allows for the opportunity to explore more fully the lives of Daisy and Gatsby, and through these flashbacks the link between violence, money, and power takes form in a way that exposes them for more than just carelessness. The violence in The Chosen and The Beautiful is deliberate. Gatsby, and Daisy are portrayed as inherently violent, each in their own way. 

It is instances like these that show that Vo is in conversation with the original text. Towards the end of The Great Gatsby, Nick muses on Tom and Daisy’s violence, writing: 

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retired back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

This theme of carelessness appears again in the original, and Nick calls Jordan careless and dishonest at one point. Vo picks up on this off-handed comment, giving us the perspective into how Jordan views Nick’s perspective:

“He called me careless because he didn’t have the words to sort out how jealous he was of my money and my freedom and how very few people in the world could act as I did. I never gave him a real answer because the real answer wasn’t one that men got. Men had no idea how careless the women of their set weren’t allowed to be. They laughed at how fussy we were about which cars we got into, and then never wondered about the long stretches of bad road between glittering place and glittering place. It was a kind of darkness that could swallow someone whole, and whoever walked back, shoes in her hand, stocking shredded and calling for help from some dingy payphone, she wouldn’t be the same girl who roared off in that unwise Tourister.” 

It is this retelling of the conversation that makes The Chosen and the Beautiful  feel both familiar and fresh.

Nghi Vo’s writing is breath-taking. Her writing echoes the poetic style of Fitzgerald, but never feels aloof or preachy. The magical realism adds to the genuine conversation with Fitzgerald’s text, and like a true retelling, this book plays and enhances ideas in the original. As I read The Chosen and The Beautiful, I couldn’t help but smile at all the throwbacks to the original text. These ranged from simple things like the colours that burst from the page with meaning, to the colonial architecture of Tom and Daisy’s mansion. These call-outs to the original are sometimes less overt, such as the demoniac drink which borrows from “the demoniac Finn,” to allusions to the city of Dis from Dante’s Inferno. The Chosen and the Beautiful’s allusions and references enhance the story that is both is a masterful retelling of The Great Gatsby and an exploration of race, gender, class and the American dream. 

I have no doubt that The Great Gatsby will continue to be a mainstay in our current cultural zeitgeist. The Chosen and the Beautiful should be part of that zeitgeist. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the book to review. This is my first review on NetGalley - apologies for the inevitable mess-ups.
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I’m not quite sure how to feel about this book. On one hand I truly think Nghi Vo wrote the story better than F Scott Fitzgerald himself. It was lyrical and atmospheric just like everything else Nghi Vo has done. On the other hand, as a reimagining, I was a little underwhelmed. The majority was the same story, but just written better. The addition of magic seemed a little random and was never really explained. That said, I did like the perspective of Jordan being Vietnamese and how it affected her in this setting. I also really liked that the characters were queer.
At the end of the day, I’d say if you’ve never read Gatsby or don’t remember much of it, then you’d probably really like this and I recommend it regardless of my rating.
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The Chosen and the Beautiful is a stunning reimagining of The Great Gatsby from the perspective of Jordan Baker, a queer Vietnamese adoptee. From the moment the story begins with Jordan and Daisy floating about the Buchanan house in East Egg until the historically impactful end, this book is utterly hypnotic, thoughtful, and engaging. We experience the world through Jordan, the racism, the sexism, the inability for those around her to see her in all her complexities and in all her power. But we also get to witness Jordan's delights, compassion, growth, and queer relationships. Laced with MAGIC and GHOSTS, I'm unsure if I devoured this book or this book devoured me. This should be new required reading. READ THIS BOOK. I'm actually going to go read it again. Right now.
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The description of this book had me very interested as it contained many things I like- Gatsby, magic, the roaring 20s, and a more diverse character set, I found it unfortunately mostly fell flat upon reading it. It was fine as a Gatsby retelling thought I don’t think any of them will live up to the original. However I found the use of magic in the book rather pointless. It didn’t seem to be any reason for it and often felt like it was just thrown in occasionally for the effect. At one point it felt like the magic was being set up to potentially give Gatsby and Daisy a happy ending that still fit with the originally story but that never came to pass. In the end the story felt a bit disjointed and did not capture my imagination enough to keep me invested in the story.
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So I've never read The Great Gatsby nor watched a film adaptation of it, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this. I think I may have gotten a bit more out of it if I were familiar going in, but it stands apart well enough and all in all, I was really enthralled by this story, especially once I got over being confused at the beginning.
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The Chosen and the Beautiful is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby through the perspective of Jordan Baker - for those who don't remember the source material, Jordan is Daisy's friend, a pro golfer, and Nick's romantic interest in the book. While these things are still true about Jordan in this book, she also happens to be a queer immigrant from Vietnam who sees ghosts and has the magic ability of cutting paper and making it come to life. So obviously, a bit different than the 1920's classic.

Like with Nghi Vo's other works The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, the writing in here is stunning. I've read The Great Gatsby twice and my favorite part of that book was the writing. Nghi Vo manages to capture the same tone Fitzgerald has and ... does it better? I thought while maintaining the style of the source material (and pulling some dialogue from it too), she manages to blend in her own way of describing things effortlessly in a way that makes the characters feel closer. It's lyrical but not overwrought. Descriptions never felt too tedious, but always were perfect enough to paint a picture. Nick always felt a bit distanced in Gatsby, but here Jordan is front and center, which was something I also enjoyed as well. She was a fantastic character to read from and her personality shines through.

The first 30%+ of this book mirrors The Great Gatsby quite closely. Even as the book diverges with a scene here or there, the narrative rarely pulls from the original thread other than to give Jordan a bit of backstory. In some ways, I liked that Nghi Vo maintains the classic tale with a bit of a twist though I'd hoped that there had been a bit more variation in the first 30% other than vague mentions of "deals with the devil." But this is also a retelling, so it's a minor critique of course. By the end of the book there had been enough change, particularly in Jordan's importance as a character for me to be at least satisfied.

An interesting addition to this book was discussion of the Manchester Act and what impact it would have on Jordan. This came pretty late in the novel, and I think it would have made more sense to have a few hints of it sooner, but I did really like how this allowed Nghi Vo to examine themes of identity, racism, xenophobia, etc.

I was really intrigued by the magic in here. It's very loosely incorporated, and used mostly for atmosphere throughout the book. There are some more important scenes involving it though as well. In some sense, I had hoped to get a bit more of a grasp on what the magic meant. At times, things felt under-explained and the set-up was lacking. I loved the ideas though. I think my biggest issue was that some things just felt rushed or lacked buildup. There were a few plot points toward the end that I could see the set-up of, and yet they still felt a bit random even with it. And I think this mostly boils down to the magic being explained so vaguely.

Overall, this was an enjoyable and beautiful read. I'd more-so recommend this to people who actually haven't read The Great Gatsby (though I would recommend it to fans as well). Still not set on my rating but maybe a 3.5/5 or a 3/5.
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[Content warnings: racism, blood, pregnancy, abortion, infidelity, murder?, abuse, not-entirely-graphic sex, intoxication (alcohol), homophobia/homomisia, death]

“The Chosen and the Beautiful” is a retelling and reimagination of “The Great Gatsby” from the viewpoint of Jordan Baker, and in Vo’s story, an adopted (or abducted?) Vietnamese with the magical ability of bringing paper to life.

For the most part, I enjoyed this queer Asian spin on the classic that I read some eight years ago. The voice was humorous and narrator likable, but the magic system was somewhat lost on me and I wish it was explored more within the story. I also had trouble accepting all the insta-attraction between almost all characters even though I love that their queer identities were not a big issue (except maybe to Tom, whom we all know is deeply racist as well). It truly mystified me when everyone started kissing everyone else.

The major events in Vo’s retelling are the same as Fitzgerald’s classic, and many of the dialogues were directly pulled from the 1925 novel. With the same settings in the same era, I appreciated that the narrative reads like it was written a century ago. One of the most intriguing elements of Vo’s work is that almost all characters are queer (bi+), and their interwoven love and attraction added another layer to Daisy’s declaration of love for both Tom and Gatsby as well as the animosity between the two men.

Jordan’s magic, or should I say the magic that runs in the blood of all people of color, seemed to be mostly irrelevant throughout the story but is in fact integral to this retelling. From the role it plays in Jordan’s life, magic is both a curse and liberation. It provides an otherness that accompanies being a person of color, and I am sure Asian fetish also plays a little part in this story, too. Does anyone see Jordan for who she is, or is she just an oddity amongst them all?

“The Chosen and the Beautiful” is a fantastical retelling that comments on race, class, gender, and sexuality. With a Vietnamese Jordan Baker as the narrator, Vo brings the first-person peripheral to a whole new level as she does not fully belong to the high society nor all the other Asians. Throughout the story, we follow Jordan as she grows to understand her paper magic and navigates her heart amidst all her romantic and sexual relationships.
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I really wanted this to be a new favorite, especially since it's one of my most anticipated 2021 releases. And I didn't dislike it; I loved the writing style, as per usual with Nghi Vo - this book is undeniably well-written, to the point that reading it feels expensive, like every single word has been crafted from solid gold. I also enjoyed the scattered bits of magic thrown in throughout the book as well as the overall atmosphere and Jordan's character, since Asian-American protagonists are always really important to me. However, after I was about halfway through the book, I found myself wondering whether or not anything interesting was going to happen, as this book feels very much like a vague reshaping of the original Great Gatsby rather than anything original. I have trouble liking stories that don't have much of a clear focus (Addie Larue and The Starless Sea, for example), and I wasn't entirely sure what the point of this book was other than being a better-written version of the original with bits and pieces of magic thrown in. (I'm not going to offer spoilers, obviously, but this book is not at all like what its synopsis says. That might not be a bad thing for some people, but for me it just ended up not clicking.)

Ultimately, while this was beautifully written, it didn't have much of an impact on me, which disappointed me greatly. Nevertheless, I appreciate the idea of it and what it tried to do, and I think it'll become a favorite for many others (especially those who enjoyed the original Great Gatsby). I can only apologize for not enjoying it more.
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This author’s book 'The Empress of Salt and Fortune' was one of my favorite reads of 2020, so I was incredibly excited to see that she had a new book coming out in 2021. I was even MORE excited when I saw that her new book is marketed as ‘a queer, magical retelling of The Great Gatsby through the eyes of a transracial Vietnamese adoptee’ sign me the fuck up, right???!!

I don't have the words to describe this book. All I can really say is that now I know how all of the people at Gatsby’s parties felt, because I was left simply dazzled by this story. Nghi Vo is an incredibly talented writer and her ability to write in such a way that lends a dream-like quality to the story she’s telling is my absolute favorite thing. It’s magic. This book is magic.
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Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel!

Rating: 5 stars

I’m so blown away by this truly magical book. I finished it a couple of days ago and I just know this is going to stay with me for a long time. I wasn’t expecting to love this as much as I did, but right from the start, this story grabbed me and didn’t let go until the last sentence. 

I remember reading and loving The Great Gatsby when I was 17, I’ve read a couple of retellings in the past but none of them holds a candle to “The Chosen and the Beautiful”. 

Our main character, Jordan, is such a great narrator. She is the perfect combination of self-assured with hints of vulnerability and I was rooting for her throughout. 

This is definitely a slower-paced story, it’s under 300 pages but took me around 3 days to finish, partly because I wanted to savour it but also because, in my opinion, it’s best read slowly so you can take everything in. 

The only thing I sort of disliked was how underdeveloped the magical element was. But as I read, I realised that it’s more of a background theme, hints of the fantastical here and there, not meant for deeper understanding. 

I lost track of the number of times I highlighted whole paragraphs and sentences, I could quote this book all day, the writing is simply breathtaking. 

Overall, I loved this so much, it will stay with me for a long time and I would 100% recommend this to people who like historical fiction with diverse characters, Gatsby retellings and books with hints of magic.
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This book will give you papercuts. In your heart. 

Honestly I’m not even sure where to begin. There are so many ways this text folds and cuts its source material until it unfolds and comes alive just like one of its protagonist’s creations. There are so many levels on which it engages with ideas imperfectly explored in the original and makes them its own. Follows them, knows them, flips them on their head and turns them inside out. 

It’s just beautiful. 

The only drawbacks are that...the only way I can describe it is that it’s dense, in the way a slightly too large meal is dense but it tastes too good to leave any leftovers. It takes a while to digest. 

I also feel like the very last page was not quite the ending I was looking for.
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Short review: A retelling of "The Great Gatsby", with magic & demon pacts. 

Longer: A retelling of Gatsby with magic, demon pacts, a bisexual protagonist of Asian descent who occupies a unique liminal space in the society (by being both a member of a Good Family) but also clearly The Other (by virtue of her skin). It also presents a searing portrait of the hollow desperation and greediness of that era, not just as boring white people drinking too much, but of the destructive presence of drugs, temptation (in the form of infernal attaches, but they read as metaphorical), selfishness, misogyny, and the utter uncaring nature of the rich. Even better, this story isn't whitewashed - there are plenty of humans that exist outside Daisy and Gatsby's snow-globe view of the world, and they aren't all white, straight, or awed by the ridiculous spectacle of the too-much-money-not-enough-sense crowd. It also has sparkling prose and the flow of the narrative pulls the reader along effortlessly.
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This book is a surreal dream someone had after they fell asleep reading The Great Gatsby. Filled with magic, queer people, and grappling with social issues, this book fills out the skeleton of Fitzgerald’s work and turns the familiar story into something richer and deeper. With the kind of perspective only being a century removed from an era can provide, Vo imagines a story where the characters are more alive and more compelling than originally envisioned. With this year’s crop of Gatsby-inspired books publishing as the original work finally enters the public domain, be sure not to miss this retelling of the tale that is both beautiful and damned.
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Nghi Vo continues to stun with her beautiful prose, excellent exploration of themes, a well crafted main character and an atmosphere that felt like being submerged in 1920s New York.

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a Great Gatsby retelling, and I think fans of the original will adore this book. Admittedly I haven't read or know the story of the original, and I do think this affected my enjoyment of the story. I was far more invested in Jordans (the narrator) story than the story unfolding with Gatsby/Daisy/Tom which we see through Jordan's eyes. To my knowledge it follows pretty closely to the original, however there was some subtle magic woven in and although I would have liked more of this throughout the story, there was a twist at the end that felt like a beautiful ode to Jordan's heritage and desire to be loved. 

The greatest strength of this novel (in my opinion) is Nghi Vo's luscious writing and enthralling atmosphere. The book is an experience that feels like being a fly on the wall amongst New Yors elite set, which in some ways is what Jordan is. My favourite scenes in the book were in the gay night club called the Cendrillion, I loved how sexuality was explored in this book, and that Jordan was bisexual. I was sort of expecting a sapphic relationship from the advertising which wasn't really what we got, but I still loved the representation, especially a bisexual woman being with a (very heavily implied to be) bisexual man. This book felt very queer, it just had vibes haha. 

Exploring the desire to love and be loved, this book (and I think the original) is a look at the different lengths people will go to for love, and through each of the characters we see a different level of devotion and the lengths they are willing to go to enact that desire. Vo's writing really enhanced this theme, bringing to life the palpable sexual and romantic tension between all our characters. We also look at the different faces people present to the world, and how this affects perception, I loved how the magic added to this theme.
I also liked how elements of racial injustice in history were added, including the Manchester Act and Jordan's experience as a Vietnamese woman in the 1920s in an unwelcoming America. This added both important history as well as relevent current socio-political themes. 

One thing I didn't love was the flashbacks, probably because these were added to give more of Daisy/Gatsby story and I felt they were taking away from the more interesting current timeline. I also really just hated Daisy haha but Jordan is very much obsessed with her so unfortunatly we see a lot of her. 

I liked Nick and Jordans relationship, and the extra elements this added to the story and wish this would have been explored a bit further, as well as both Nick/Jordan relationship with Gatsby (honestly Daisy should have just been axed and I would have enjoyed the story a lot more), because this was such a fascinating and interesting relationship and power dynamic.

In conclusion I think this book is perfect for fans of literary books with stunning writing and fans of the original looking for a fresh new twist. Personally I really enjoyed being emersed in the atmosphere and the writing but did not care overmuch for the plot.
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No one is more disappointed than me about this turn of events. I rated both of Nghi Vo’s novellas five whole stars. I really thought I would love this book equally. Instead — perhaps a little predictably, I’ll admit — my dislike of The Great Gatsby won out.

A little background first as to why I hate Gatsby quite so much, though. And it primarily comes down to studying it to death at GCSE (8 years ago — this will be important). I just hated the damn thing so much, and it didn’t help that I forced myself to read it ten times so that I knew it well enough in the exam to know when everything happened and where to find supporting quotes.

So, back to The Chosen and the Beautiful.

I think my major problem here was that the story tracked incredibly close to the original. I know, I know — it’s a retelling! you cry. But there’s levels to this. A retelling can be very loose, where entire plotlines change slightly. Or it can keep as close to the original as this one.

Brief interlude here to say: if you have read Gatsby but don’t remember it well enough and are thinking of rereading, don’t. I found that, knowing the story as well as I did, it took all the tension out of it. I knew exactly what was going to happen and it didn’t work well. If you haven’t read Gatsby and are wondering if you should, I would say read the first paragraph or so of the Wikipedia summary, or read the blurb. Enough to get you an idea of what the book is about (because you do get thrown straight in with this, and I can see it being confusing), but don’t read anything about the ending. Let this be a surprise for you.

But back to my point. The fact that this was a strict retelling (barring one or two aspects) worked against me here because, despite last reading Gatsby 8 years ago, I still knew it well enough to be able to spot when scenes, and even exact lines of dialogue, were lifted from it. Now, I don’t mean to frame this as an inherently bad thing — if you think about Pride and Prejudice retellings, a lot start with a riff on the opening line of that — but my problem was it threw me straight out of the story and into hating Gatsby over again as a 15 year old. Again, on this, your mileage may vary. I felt that the story was at its best when it distanced itself from directly retelling, but it always came back to it.

In addition to this, one of the major selling points for me on this book — the fantastical aspect — seemed sort of limited to adding a different kind of flavouring to the book. In the sense that, now it’s a historical fantasy, but that doesn’t really change the plot in any meaningful way. Again, I think this is a personal point because you mightn’t mind that about it. I did. Because, like I said, it comes back to predictability. If the magical aspect had had the effect of changing the way the story went, then I think I would have appreciated it more. As it was, I didn’t feel as though it added anything — there were long passages that went by without mention of them, and I neither really felt like the world was any different for it, nor really missed it.

But. If you are not plagued by a hatred of Gatsby, combined with an unfortunately good memory for almost all parts of it, then you will enjoy this book. Nghi Vo is clearly an accomplished writer and is able to mimic seamlessly F. Scott Fitzgerald in one respect, while also improving on his writing (it was so much less pretentious and more accessible than his). That is, if you don’t know which lines are his and which not, you will hardly notice. Honestly, Nghi Vo’s writing and the twists she put on the characters is what kept me going. While I couldn’t enjoy this enough to rate it over three stars, I did still like it. And I would still recommend it (unlike The Great Gatsby).

All of which to say that, unless you have an equal hatred of The Great Gatsby, I think you will love this book. And if you enjoyed Nghi Vo’s novellas already, you will especially love it.
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Perhaps I expected too much when I read this was a new take on one of my favorite novels, THE GREAT GATSBY; instead I found a rather bizarre and unsatisfying version. 

So, I really didn’t enjoy this and found myself critical of the author’s version. I love originality, but rather than original, this was a talented writer who found no personal voice, but took another writer’s material captive and tweaked it with what she felt were modern touches. Obviously, I was disappointed. 

Thank you Netgalley for this ARC.
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