Cover Image: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful

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This was an interesting read that gave me conflicting feelings. On one hand, it's definitely the queer Gatsby retelling that we were all craving for (yay, almost all characters are bi/pan) since THE GREAT GATSBY entered public domain in January this year. However, I am not sure it is done in a way that necessarily add much new and satisfying things on top of the old Gatsby tale.

Things I like about this book:


1. I loved how this retelling of Gatsby is told from an Vietnamese adoptee Jordan's perspective. In the original story she was just a white and frivolous girl whom is portrayed as dishonest. However, this book told from her perspective depicted how Asian women were exotified in history.

Her backstory was an interesting exploration of the White Savior narrative as the story begs the question if she was truly adopted or abducted by her missionary adopted parent.

Also, the Manchester Act passed around that time that had a similar purpose as the Chinese Exclusion Act was utilized very well as how it affected Jordan in her life despite her being an adoptee who is very disconnected from her Asian heritage.

2. I love the writing. This author has the amazing ability for metaphor and imagery. The writing was so vivid and lavish I feel like it fits the background of the Roaring Twenties. It's just so beautiful yet subtle at conveying the atmosphere and character motivations. I will definitely read more of the author's works in the future.

3. I love the magic realistic elements and how it connects the identity of being POC in this book. Only POC or POC related characters have magic in this book, relating to their otherness. Characters who have magic but choose to conceal their magic are the ones who try to fits the upper class white society of America. Characters who celebrates their magic are the ones who embrace their identity and heritage.

What I didn't like about this book:

1. I don't really like how meandering this book has been. I feel like there's not a lot that was happening. It was boring for the most part, maybe due to the nature it being a Gatsby retelling. However I feel like a lot of elements (especially the magical realism element) is underutilized and underdeveloped. Also the more interesting threads are left unexplored. This dragged down my enjoyment a fair amount.

2. The plot twist at the end??? I don't really understand why it's there and it seemingly came out of nowhere. It doesn't really add anything to the story. I am still buffled by it. Jordan's action was also left quite unexplained and confusing.

3. Character dynamics. I LOVE that everyone is in loved with each other, but I still feel like a lot of very promising charged dynamics were kind of underused or wasted. Yes I mean Nick and Gatsby. I'm so sad we got very little of them in a book that's a queer Great Gatsby retelling.

Anyway, overall this was a bit of an okay read. I finished it and didn't feel like it was a waste of my time, still it didn't meet my expectations. I will definitely pick up more of this author's book just for her beautiful writing.

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The Greater Gatsby

Magical retelling of The Great Gatsby from the point of view of queer Asian-American Jordan Baker.
It's as great as that sounds.

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Good grief, this is excellent. I've always loved <i>The Great Gatsby</i> but when you make it queer and you tell it through the eyes of adopted Asian Jordan Baker, coasting on the fringe of the soulless elite until closeness with Daisy Buchanan brings her into the inner circle, turns out I love it even more. There's a supernatural element that I hadn't expected and I wasn't so keen on in the beginning, but considering the thoughts that I was having about the characters while reading, her Nick and her Gatsby in particular, and the revelations about them that unfold, Vo absolutely pulls off the demonic aspect she introduces. Best of all is her writing style, which is dreamy yet precise - how is that possible? I have no idea but here I am, reveling in the sumptuous with not a word out of place.

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Nghi Vo's 'The Chosen and the Beautiful' has taken the story of The Great Gatsby and transformed it into something all the more magical, heartbreaking and terrifying. Following Jordan Baker, the story expands upon Fitzgerald's world in a way that leans into literal fantasy, weaving a New York and a story that is familiar and unfamiliar all at once. The effect is absolutely stunning. Jordan's own story is given new shape too, having her move through the world as a queer, Vietnamese woman in a world that is incredibly white. Jordan constantly floats between spectator and participant, through spaces constantly navigating where she fits in and where she is simply just a guest. I absolutely loved following her evolving relationship with Nick and the bonds they shared. Vo has breathed new life into this story in a really special way and through beautiful prose, creating magic not unlike the magic Jordan and her paper and scissors create throughout the story. This is a book I expect to return to again and again, drawn back into that 1922 summer that barrels towards catastrophe for the chosen and the beautiful of this story.

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This reimagining of The Great Gatsby is the magical, dark, queer story I’ve always wanted. Vo writes about the 20s as a romantic time, but one tinged with darkness in the most delicious way. The magic in this story kept sneaking up on me, and I was delighted every time. Though the plot of Gatsby weaves through this book (and therefore you know what’s coming before it does), Vo still manages to make the story feel fresh and unexpected. Highly recommend.

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Nghi Vo's debut novel is a beautifully enchanting story, although ultimately there were a few pieces that gave me pause.

Vo's talented writing weaved in a fantastic retelling of The Great Gatsby - I reread The Great Gatsby recently and it was nice that it was in my mind while reading The Chosen and the Beautiful. As a bisexual Asian American, I absolutely loved reading about queer Asian American MC Jordan Baker, and learning more about her life as she grows up in 1920s East Coast America with wealth and privilege. Jordan's queerness was very organic and I so loved that piece of this and appreciated the slight polygamy rep. Vo's clever historical additions added to a setting I could picture well. I also loved the magical/fantastical enchantments sprinkled throughout; it was perfectly mysterious and Jordan's paper cutting was one of my favorite elements in this. I also want to add that this cover is perfect for this and is exactly how I imagined Jordan throughout the novel.

What gives me pause: I am not Indigenous, nor Black, so I cannot at all speak to this beyond my own uncomfortability, however I was disappointed at the portrayal of Blackness and Indigenousness. Both these pieces felt like a very small afterthought and tacked on. Again though, I cannot speak to this identity this was a very small piece to the story overall.

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4 stars, a wonderful reimagining of a classic novel

As both a fan of the original Great Gatsby and a fan of up and coming novelist, Nghi Vo, I was eager for this book and please do say that it does not disappoint. Told from Jordan Baker's POV, this novel sets out to do for Daisy Buchanan and Jordan what the original did for Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby and it very much succeeds.

The two big changes are that Jordan is a Vietnamese orphan adopted by the Baker family and that magic is real in this world and both Jordan and Gatsby have it. Simple as these changes are, they open up the classic book in some fascinating ways as Jordan obviously has many more opinions on Tom Buchanan's racism than her original white counterpart did and the magic, while used sparingly, leads to some absolutely marvelous scenes including a personal favorite where Daisy viciously kills a vacuous doppelganger of herself that has been made out of paper and false dreams who was to exist for one night to be the beautiful and obedient wife that Daisy feels trapped into performing as. Where else are you going to find a story where something so intimately revealing and also incisively commenting on the original novel's approach to female characterization? On the writing end, Fitzgerald was one of the all time great prose stylists and Vo isn't quite up to that level but she's no slouch either. Her capacity for mimicking Fitzgerald's style is quite good to the point that for the most part the seams are only visible if you're actively looking for them or are a Fitzgerald fan. I imagine very few people will walk away from this book anything less than impressed by Vo's writing.

My two worries about the book are this: 1) that it hews so close to the original Gatsby that it might be difficult to follow for anyone who hasn't read or reread that book recently and 2) that in sticking so close to the pacing of the original but shifting the story to be more magical, Vo has accidentally created some pacing problems because the old pacing doesn't quite gel with the new darker and more urgent plotting caused by the introduction of magic. I consider these far from book ruining problems but I can easily see other people being frustrated by them.

But those issues aside, the book is both enjoyable and an impressive work of criticism. As both a fantasy fan and a Great Gatsby fan, I believe Vo has woven both together successfully and put her mark on the American classic in a way that helps it to feel even more relevant by drawing out elements that had always been in the original but confronting them head on rather than leaving them as subtext.

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The Chosen and the Beautiful is a stunning, atmospheric retelling of The Great Gatsby, and in many ways Nghi Vo tells it far better than F Scott Fitzgerald did.

Those who have read The Great Gatsby will be familiar with the characters however this time our protagonist is Jordan Baker and she is a queer Vietnamese orphan with magical paper-cutting powers. Jordan was so much more interesting than Nick Carraway. She had a very dark and understated sense of humour which I loved.

In addition to race, class, and perception, The Chosen and the Beautiful explores what it meant to be a Vietnamese woman in the 1920s, particularly in the sense of being treated like a novelty or doll, rather than as a person.

There were a few parts that I struggled with. As beautiful as the magical elements were, they did sometimes feel a little out of place. Jordan is obviously very in love with Daisy and this occupies a lot of her thoughts which became a little tedious at times.

I think fans of The Great Gatsby will enjoy The Chosen and The Beautiful and appreciate how the new elements are woven into the heart of the original.

Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book!

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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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