Cover Image: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful

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Member Reviews

I was intrigued by this book because the premise of a retelling of the Great Gatsby with a queer Asian main character combined with the fact that it also includes magic sounded really interesting to me.
I had also hoped that this book would make me like the original characters more. Because one thing I remember from reading the original book and from watching the movie was, that I found most characters to be sort of unlikable. They were complex characters with flaws but I still found myself slightly annoyed by them and unfortunately the same thing happened with this book.

While I loved Jordan Baker as a character - queer, Asian, a magician, female and somewhat of an outcast in society - I also found her to be annoying and unlikable at times. Sometimes I wanted to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake.
What I highly appreciated though was the fact that Jordan is an outspoken woman who takes what she wants and pursues whoever she wants without caring about anyone's opinion. She certainly is a great female character, even if I didn't always like her.

Most of the story seemed very familiar (but it's a retelling after all) but with enough new facets added to it, so it was still a new experience and even surprised me sometimes.

I also really liked the magical aspect of the book even if most of it was largely unexplained, and I wish there would have been a more elaborate exposition. I wanted to learn more about this magic and its sources, but unfortunately we didn't really get a lot of information about that.

One thing that bothered me about this book was the pacing. The first 50% (ish) felt really slow. I found that I could only ever read a single chapter or maybe two before I had to put the book down. My mind just kept wandering and I found it hard to really find the motivation to pick it up again. Luckily the last 50% were a lot faster paced in my opinion and I read most of it in one sitting.
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Though she thinks the name “hangs oddly” upon her, Jordan grows up as a Louisville Baker. It is a name that gives her wealth and access to society. Daisy is a part of that society and the two form a bond over a bit of paper magic. Though time and distance change how close Jordan and Daisy feel, they are not enough to sever their connection entirely. Perhaps this fond recollection of her childhood friend makes Jordan amenable to spending much of the summer of 1922 in Daisy’s company. Jordan gets far more than she bargained for, however, when she gets tangled up in the affairs of Daisy’s neighbor—a supremely wealthy man named Jay Gatsby.

It was just a party, albeit a fabulously well turned out one, where Jordan meets Nick Carraway. He seems dull and overly attached to his midwestern roots for the cosmopolitan Jordan, but something about him draws her to him. And through him, to Gatsby as well. The latter sees Nick and Jordan as a means to bring Daisy to him. Despite initial misgivings, Jordan agrees to help. She might actually end up falling for Nick in the process. Except, of course, for the way Nick and Gatsby seem drawn together like magnets, the fact that Daisy is married, and the fact that Gatsby has literally struck the worst kind of deal just to make him a man materially worthy of a socialite. With her social world beginning to rip apart at the seams, there is a growing political movement across the country that just may drive Jordan to leave it all behind.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo is a retelling of The Great Gatsby. The time and place, 1920s New York, as well as the main and supporting characters all recall the classic tale of love turned obsession and the barriers even the wealthiest class faces. The narration, however, has shifted away from Nick and falls upon Jordan. In Vo’s story, Jordan came to be in America thanks to a couple of missionaries who, as was explained to Jordan, “rescued” her from Vietnam. Through Jordan, the story is reimagined with two rich themes not present (to the best of my fuzzy recollection) in the original. The first was magic and the second was race relations.

The theme of magic was delightfully subtle to me. At first, I just accepted the seemingly fantastical as a stylistic device. What turned out to be literal magic has the quality of superb creative license in the prose. Yet as I read further, I gradually came to appreciate that the book contains an undeniable element of the paranormal. The ghosts Jordan mentions in the Baker home are actual ghosts. The way a paper cut out of a dragon ferociously dive-bombs Jordan is a real threat to her. Magic seemed to  permeate the world and I was delighted with how it shot through the story, sometimes just a fact of the world, sometimes on stunning display. The book’s signature liqueur—demoniac—is much the same. It is introduced early on and in a wholly blase manner. The drink has infernal origins that foreshadow a bigger connection to the plot. Unlike the ubiquitous libation the characters frequently imbibe, this twist in the plot leaves plenty of room for readers to interpret it in different ways.

Race issues also filter through the text. There is the tenuous relationship Jordan has with immediate members of the family that “adopted” her from Vietnam. Her adoptive father seems to often point out that he doesn’t blame Jordan for the fact that his wife (Jordan’s adoptive mother) died soon after their mission to Vietnam ended…as if a mere toddler could somehow have any blame. Daisy’s husband also rails against non-caucasian people and their values being chipped away. But more than any individual characters, the idea of racism takes on a more sinister quality towards the end of the book in the form of the Manchester Act, an exclusionary law. This spectre of legal discrimination gets raised only towards the end, but I thought it dovetailed with the tragic end of the classic Gatsby tale marvelously well. It seems odd, but I thought this displacement might be a chance for Jordan to regroup after having two significant relationships in her life basically terminated.

Finally, I would say Vo did a lovely job picking and choosing who, how, where, and when to show off the queerness of the cast. Jordan comes across as clearly bisexual; her off-page dalliances and intrigues seem to feature women, but she warms up to Nick in such a bittersweet way. When Nick and Gatsby are introduced basically at the same time at one of Gatsby’s party, I started carrying a little torch for them. The details of their romantic and/or sexual connection are both overt (i.e. you know they have sex) and covert (why are they sexually involved and how involved are they really).

Overall, The Chosen and the Beautiful is a stunning story. Fans of the original will surely be pleased with this retelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the paranormal elements. I also rather liked how the narrator in this retelling feels so much more integral to the action than I remember the narrator being in the original. Jordan is very much a part of the action—she is the center of it all, really. The intrigue Gatsby represents, the romance Nick seems to offer, the hedonism Daisy brings all show us different aspects of the complex and enjoyable lead character that Jordan is.
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There’s a certain expectation with a reimagining, especially of a classic that is well loved, to hold true to the awe and love for the original while also bringing forth something of an elaborate uniqueness that sets it apart from that original.... The Chosen and the Beautiful faaaaaar exceeded that expectation for me. I genuinely don’t think I took a single breath from the moment I started until the moment I finished in complete and utter wonderment.

If you were to ever read a Great Gatsby retelling (reimagining in this case) then let it be this one. While I thoroughly loved The Great Gatsby, in all honesty the ideologies that it represents are predominantly meant for the American people that ‘matter’, who at the time, meant white Americans (Tom and Daisy in this book are perfect representation of that). I’m sure for many of us, myself included, to truly connect with a classic such as The Great Gatsby in this time and age that it was written, is difficult because of the lack of inclusion and  acknowledgement of the prejudice that was present in the 1920s. But that is different in this book. Vo flawlessly exposes so much of what was wrong of the time period and brings forth The Great Gatsby that should have been written with a very real look at racism, sexuality, mental health and so much more.

Not to mention the magical aspects of the novel which bring more depth not just to the the story but to the characters as well. I think what Fitzgerald originally created and symbolized with these characters is tenfold here given their uniqueness, especially with the twist at the end. 

1000/10 would recommend and I can already tell I’ll be rereading this one again very soon!
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Nghi Vo is such a talented author, and I have given both of Vo’s previous novellas five stars. The first thing that drew me in to this book, other than Vo’s name, was the beautiful cover and the fact that it was LGBT. That already had me sold, but finding out it was a retelling of The Great Gatsby? Sign me UP. Where I feel the downfall of some people’s reading experience was studying this at school for exams, I think that was one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so muck. Being such a close reimagining took some of the tension away as I knew plot points, dialogue and symbolism inside out, however I really enjoyed seeing the story in a different light.
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Delighted to include it in the June instalment of Novel Encounters, my column highlighting the month's top fiction for Zed, Zoomer magazine’s reading and books section (full review and feature at link).
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I picked up this book hoping that it would cure me of my dislike of Great Gatsby to read a similar story told by a voice and characters I hold much more interest for. I did not finish the book because it seems my distaste is for any story set in this period that centers itself on the wealthy and upper class rather than the people who labored to make their lives so gilded.
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This was another book that I think the hype may have ruined for me -- the promised elements just didn't coalesce into the finished product I'd envisioned. I had hoped for more of a reimagining of the Gatsby story (i.e. what was happening off-camera from the original text) but what we got was a pretty one-to-one retelling. I agree with other reviewers that the writing style was beautiful and the story was what Gatsby /should/ have been, but I was hoping for more additions and less revisiting. Also, the queer elements were really not explored at all, and while they were more explicit than the original text, there wasn't really any examination of the role of queerness in the story.
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My Review:⭐️⭐⭐.5/ 5 stars 

First of all, Great Gatsby retelling with a Vietnamese, queer woman as the main character = must read. As a Vietnamese woman myself, I was so happy to see representation in one of my favorite books of all time. Vo writes so beautifully - and you are immediately sucked into the world of the dazzling 20’s. I always was interested in learning more about Daisy Buchanan and how she was brought up - and this helped give a peek into her personality. The only issue for me was the random magic/alchemy that would just pop up throughout the book without much explanation. I understand it’s supposed to be a bit more subtle, but it felt almost a bit out of place. Also, the ending was not expected and not sure how I feel about it yet. Overall, the book is a must read for Gatsby lovers and I am so glad I read it! 

Thank you to Tor Books  and NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.  US Pub Date: June 1, 2021!
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I read The Great Gatsby in high school, and I have not returned to it since. I have read retellings before, but this was probably my first retelling of such a famous and contemporary novel like The Great Gatsby. I was a little surprised at how many similarities there were in the plot. 

Overall, I thought the things that made this different from the source material were my favorite. The book seemed to drag on for quite a bit of time before I felt captivated by the retelling. It was about 65% of the way through when I truly became engaged in the story. I thought Jordan was a fascinating character, and I wish we could have just heard her story and really understand her without any association with Jay, Nick, or Daisy. I’m not sure that those relationships were vital to the development of Jordan as the protagonist. 

Some magical elements don’t come into the story until more than halfway through. And even then, it is so sparse and left as such an afterthought that I’m not sure that I understand how the magic works. For example, I loved the idea of Jordan meeting some people like her, but the whole scene happened so fast that I was left very underwhelmed. We also know that there is some demon blood magic and ghosts, but I don’t exactly understand how that all works. 

The writing was exceptional, and I thought that Nghi Vo elevated the original work, but I am still left wondering why this book is necessary? I am not sure what the point of the book and why we needed it.
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THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL by Nghi Vo is a retelling of The Great Gatsby with a queer Asian American woman named Jordan as the main character. The writing is good as it kept me reading but I didn’t care for the storyline. It felt as if everything was happening around Jordan and she wasn’t even the focal point of the story. It was all about Daisy and Gatsby and Jordan was just there to witness it and tell their story from her sideline perspective. I really appreciated the diversity of her characterization and loved the setting of New York in 1922. There were some touches of magic that were interesting especially in the opening scene it made me confused as to what’s going to be real in this book. There were several moments during reading that I considered DNF but even though I didn’t care for the storyline or the characters the writing had a nice flow with a touch of elegance. If you loved The Great Gatsby I would recommend this one.
Thank you to Tor Books for my advance review copy!
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The surreal setting and flowing descriptions made this book such a joy to read. I also enjoyed the more inclusive and diverse depiction of the roaring twenties, even if they were carved out of secret spaces and even Jordan friends where still often ignorant. Her in between position of not always belonging completely to the glittering set but still separated from her heritage was well written and added an interesting lens to the other characters in the story. The magic system was interesting, it was never outright explained which made the line between reality and the influence of the party scene hard to decipher at times. The party scenes were so wonderfully surreal and definitely my favorite aspect of the book. I found the book to be dreamy and compelling, hard to put down.
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4.5 stars

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a queer, inclusive retelling of The Great Gatsby with a wonderful Asian main character. I have never read the original Great Gatsby, but I have seen the 1974 adaptation, and I can tell you straight up this retelling is 🌶spicy🌶. Not only did we get a side plot of possible demon interference, we got some nice sexy scenes.

This book follows Jordan Baker and her journey from Vietnam (Tonkin at the time) as a child to Louisville with her adoptive family, then finally to Long Island where she parties frequently with Daisy Buchanan, her friend from childhood. She soon meets Nick Carraway, Daisy’s cousin, and eventually Jay Gatsby, his rich neighbor.

The rich spend all their time at parties or organizing events. Jay Gatsby’s parties are always the most outrageous, but he never attends them. His parties contain some great magic that Jordan has seen, and even performed before. 

Nghi Vo takes a tragic story about the rich and plentiful and gives it more depth to include the terrible situations people of color were forced into during the roaring twenties. She delves into homophobia, including internalized homophobia, and misogyny. The characters have incredible depth and I loved seeing more to the original characters Fitzgerald created.

Did I mention there were demons?!

Thank you to NetGalley, Tordotcom, and Nghi Vo for this advanced review copy!

CW: homophobia, Anti-Asian legislature, murder
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Admittedly, I had a bit of a harder time first getting into this novel. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books of all time and I found myself constantly noticing the changes made to my beloved story. As I read on and Jordan grew into herself as a character, I was able to appreciate how Vo transformed the popular work. The way that Vo seamlessly incorporated the haunting fantasy elements into the novel were stellar. I really liked the choice of making Jordan Vietnamese as it added another layer of how POC were treated in the 20s, as well as the masterful descriptions of paper cutting. And that ending, wow! A must read for everyone in love with these terrible, terrible characters wrapped up in the beauty of wealth.
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I eyerolled hard at the incoming wave of Great Gatsby spinoffs as it came into public domain, but I just read this and it was the BEST. Dark magic and queerness-- need I say more?

Jordan Baker is a new woman of the era— cynical, hard, and self-centered. That hasn't changed from the original, but Jordan's origins have changed: Vo makes her both queer and Vietnamese, taken from her home under mysterious circumstances and raised amongst the American elite. These traits set her apart from her peers, though her propensity for magic makes her a useful ally for Daisy. And of course Daisy encounters Gatsby again— now a rich man who appears to have literally sold his soul — and Jordan becomes more and more entangled with Nick Carroway, whose strange emptiness is finally meaningfully addressed.

Vo has taken a powerful story— the decline of the American dream, the emptiness of the elite, etc-- and makes it an even more powerful exploration of identity. The writing is beautiful and mesmerizing. Highly recommended. And check out Vo's other novellas— they are also stellar.
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Ever since I read The Empress of Salt and Fortune, I knew I would be reading every book Nghi Vo puts out. So, of course, The Chosen and The Beautiful was on my list. This veers away from Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle; I would consider The Chosen and The Beautiful as magic realism. Although I have watched Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure if this gap in my knowledge has somehow influenced how I feel about Chosen. I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. This isn’t to say that my experience was bad. Nghi Vo has one of the most beautiful writings I’ve ever read. The characters were messy and unlikable which I think was the author’s intentions. Reading the book felt like dunking my head underwater – everything was beautiful but hazy. I loved that aspect of the book. I think, for me, what I wanted more of was Jordan’s relationship with her race and culture. I wanted to understand how this had affected her paper magic and explore a bit more of her identity. Overall, though, I do think The Chosen and The Beautiful is a beautiful book and one that is worthy of a re-read.
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This retelling of Gatsby is better than the original. It felt like reading a classic but with a better MC and representation. She's a queer Asian chick who kicks ass at GOLF in the 1920s. 

The magic in the book was sort of weird and felt out of place at times. It didn't feel grounded in the story and came off a little gimmicky at first, but by the end I felt it was more integrated with the story and world.

This book does such a good job of capturing the nuances of race. The slights and micro aggressions presented are those that could only come from an ownvoices author.

I would recommend this to those who are fond of classics/updated retellings.
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Happy release day Nghi Vo!

I have so many words and then not enough to describe how much I loved this book. It was so beautiful, so original and added something new and wonderful to a classic. A hard thing to accomplish, as Gatsby has a large, devoted following.

Our interview with the author is on the blog. Go have a read when you can !
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I received an ARC of The Chosen and the Beautiful from Macmillan-Tor/Forge in exchange for an honest review. 

Retelling and riffing on classic texts is, at best, playing with fire. Every once in a while someone like John Gardner comes along with Grendel or Madeline Miller with The Song of Achilles, but in my experience books like these fail more often than they succeed. So it was with trepidation as well as anticipation that I began Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful, which reframes one of my all-time favorite novels, The Great Gatsby, from the perspective of a Vietnamese Jordan Baker in a world where one can attend a party at Gatsby’s and encounter actual magic. 

I was happy to discover that although Nghi Vo doesn’t quite manage to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle storytelling that facilitated Madeline Miller’s rise to fame, The Chosen and the Beautiful is a refreshing and successful complement to The Great Gatsby that I can’t wait to recommend for fans of the original book and newcomers to the story. Nghi Vo already made her mark with the first two Singing Hills Cycle novellas, but The Chosen and the Beautiful is an exceptional debut novel from an exceptional writer, and I hope it is only the first of what will be many. 

It is clear from page one that The Chosen and the Beautiful is all about lush prose. There are many authors out there who can write beautifully, but there aren’t many authors out there who can write beautifully without it coming across as…well, a bit obnoxious. Nghi Vo is one of them. Nearly every sentence of this book is dripping in poetic language, and somehow it never grated on me. I am frankly astounded, because Nghi Vo is really going toe-to-toe with Fitzgerald himself, one of the greatest writers in the history of American literature, and she holds her own. Her prose evokes Fitzgerald but doesn’t feel imitative (though beautiful, his prose was more sparse). That’s impressive enough on its own to recommend The Chosen and the Beautiful. 

Here’s the big question: will your enjoyment of The Chosen and the Beautiful be diminished if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby? I will readily admit that I am not the best person to answer that question—I have loved The Great Gatsby for many years and have so internalized the story that I have a hard time imagining what it might be like to approach The Chosen and the Beautiful without that knowledge. But I will venture an answer, and my answer is no. This is a rich and rewarding work in its own right, and while I believe you will get the more out of The Chosen and the Beautiful if you read The Great Gatsby first, it is by no means necessary to do so. 

There are two aspects of The Chosen and the Beautiful which didn’t sit well with me. The first is that it never seems sure what it wants to say; it flirts with theme but never commits. There was a moment about halfway through the novel when I almost gasped out loud because I thought it had finally become clear why Nghi Vo was telling this story and how it was in conversation with The Great Gatsby, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant, but then that aspect of the story was almost entirely abandoned. I hesitate to bring up Madeline Miller yet again in this review, but The Song of Achilles, by contrast, illuminates my frustration—Miller’s debut is an essential text because it blows up generations of misreadings by refusing the reader an opportunity to deny the homosexual subtext of The Iliad. The Chosen and the Beautiful offers nothing of the sort to readers of The Great Gatsby; whenever it seems as if it might take a stance, it shies away. 

The second is that The Chosen and the Beautiful never truly pushes back against the text that inspired it. This book is at its best when it directly contradicts The Great Gatsby—I loved how Nghi Vo rewrote Fitzgerald’s original scenes, flavoring them with dialogue and metaphors that slip in seamlessly with lines I recognized, but I loved the new scenes even more (the chapter in which Jordan’s backstory is revealed is a particular highlight, as is her interaction with the iconic T.J. Eckleburg billboard near the end of the novel). If The Chosen and the Beautiful had been so bold as to actively reshape the climactic sequence of the source material, I daresay it would be a classic in its own right. Alas, it settles for being a satisfying, but almost beat-for-beat, retelling.
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I've been sitting on this review for quite some time. I've had such a hard time writing it! I have many feelings about this book. First off, it's absolutely beautifully written. The prose is breathtaking. On the other hand, I thought this was extremely close to the original story. While yes, it's a retelling, it had elements that made it unique in it's own way that I wanted WAY more of. The fantasy/magical touches to this book were minimal and I think a touch more would've put this book on a whole other level for me. If you aren't a Great Gatsby fan, this may be a hard pass for you. If you want to read a story written like a dream, you'll want to pick this up right away.
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I enjoyed this book. It’s a retelling of The Great Gatsby but it’s in the point of view of Jordan Baker. I think this book has an amazing writing style and I loved seeing how it was from Jordan Baker‘s point of view instead of Nick‘s who is the original narrator of The Great Gatsby. I thought that the pacing was well done and that the plot structure was well written. I enjoyed how the author wrote Jordan as a Asian immigrant character instead of American white person like how she was in the original book. It was also nice to see how the author added some of the same element into this book but also made it into her style which I thought was very unique. Overall the writing was well done and I wasn’t disappointed with it at all.

I really enjoyed Jordan‘s character in this book. It was nice to see everything in her perspective as she struggles with learning how she has a foreign past that she never really knew about and hasn’t thought of it as much. I really enjoyed her character development throughout the book and seeing her grow also trying to find her background. Though I was a little disappointed with her love life as she is identified as queer but didn’t know much of thinking girls are attractive or anything in the romance side. I also enjoyed the side characters like Nick, Gatsby, and Daisy who were featured in the book a lot. Also in this book Nick is queer with Daisy showing some attraction for Jordan. All the side characters were well written though for the romance part I was disappointed with as I didn’t see much of it as I was expecting.

The ending was well done with the past and it was nice to see Jordan trying to find herself. This book is what The Great Gatsby should have been. It had all the eggs from the original book explained in this one. It was just well written and I only had minor problems with it. I totally recommend you guys to read this book!
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