Cover Image: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful

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Member Reviews

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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I wanted to LOVE this book but unfortunately, it fell a bit short of my expectations. I still liked it and enjoyed it and if you have any fascination for the Gatsby world and 1920's it's definitely a must-read. Vo's prose is certainly beautiful and evocative and I was impressed at how well she was able to balance the characters as they were originally written with her own style and contexts she places them in. I loved seeing the backstory behind Jordan and Daisy's friendship as well as retellings of pivotal scenes from Gatsby's were mesmerizing. The only thing that I wasn't here for was the inclusion of the fantasy element. especially in the first half of the novel as I just didn't think there was enough of it to make it necessary to the retelling. I'm also not a huge fantasy reader so maybe that's why it didn't resonate with me...Nevertheless, I loved how this retelling provided insight into race, gender, and class in the 1920s.
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The Great Gatsby is now in the public domain so there are many authors “reimagining” Fitzgerald’s classic characters. I’m a huge fan of the book and Mia Farrow’s Daisy, so my standards are set quite high for any author who takes a keystroke to my beloved West Egg.

This book reads like a marketers delight, let’s give Daisy a diverse, queer, Etsy-esque BFF! Ugh .. I can just hear the Zoom calls now. 

The book is told from Jordan Baker’s POV. Jordan was born in Vietnam but was “rescued” by an American missionary. She grows up in Louisiana and befriends southern belle, Daisy Fay. We cut between stories of their friendship that led up to Daisy marrying Tom, and present day, which is the exact storyline from The Great Gatsby. 

There are quite of few sex scenes, and ones that include Jay Gatsby with young men and Jordan with women. I don’t see how these narratives improve or add a new commentary to this story. This felt exploitive and a way to use sex to market this book.

Nghi Vo has a beautiful voice and a very lyrical style and I very much enjoyed her writing (which is why I’m giving her 3 stars), but her “reimagining” added no real substance to this classic. It really is just The Great Gatsby with a queer BFF added in.
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Having not read or watched The Great Gatsby, I did not really know what to expect from this book. I was hoping it'd pull me in and maybe make me want to finally pick up the said classic book and honestly? This has a new literary voice that kept me hooked. I realized just how invested I am from the start. Jordan's an interesting character. Magic runs in her veins and she does what she wants. Nghi Vo discusses racial discrimination, class struggles, and white supremacy in this one book and it was splendidly written. Her words never failed to draw me in and put that tension in every single moment of the book. I can't wait to read more by this author. The Chosen and the Beautiful described how it is to be a socialite and the complicated relationships that one living a dazzling lifestyle engages in. Thank you Netgalley for the earc!
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A wondrous and gleaming retelling of The Great Gatsby, Nghi Vo's version of the tale so many of us parsed in high school contains magic and ghosts and fictional "Paper Cutters of Indochina." Daisy's hands are still birds. Tom Buchanan's still a bull of a man, and Gatsby's still a man deeply flawed beneath a dazzling veneer. Vo has followed Fitzgerald's plot and overlaid it with an entirely new perspective. The novel is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway's romantic interest, Jordan Baker, a modern 1920's woman golfer with a secondary role in Fitzgerald's novel. But in this retelling, she is a woman brought to the U.S. as a baby from Vietnam and raised by a wealthy white family. She navigates the story from within the Gatsby-Daisy-Nick circle, but from an Asian and queer perspective. This allows the narrative to include new and/or original themes of race, gender, sexuality. The author's voice, language, and adherence to the source novel imbues the reader -- this reader, for sure -- with the sense of rereading Gatsby from a refreshing and lyrically compelling viewpoint. 
[Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an ARC of this book in exchange for my opinion.]
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Content warning: homophobia, racism, abortion, domestic violence, car accidents, alcoholism

In this queer reimagining of The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker is a queer, Vietnamese adoptee and socialite with all the beautiful sharp edges of stained glass. It’s deeply sensual and takes full advantage of almost a century of historical contextualizing. There’s glitz, glamour, and paper craft magic that fully immerses the reader in its time period and aesthetic.

I’m not saying this book is perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. The Chosen and the Beautiful perfectly captures the horniness of a summer fling with all the yearning horror of watching your best friend make increasingly ill-advised decisions when it comes to the men in her life.

This clever, confident, and flirty reimagining is swoony as all hell. When it’s light and sensual, it’s easy to get caught in the way people have romanticized the roaring twenties. But Vo paints a darker image of the time period’s realities, with how careful girls need to be while the men can exist in wanton abandon. The use of flashback works efficiently to add further weight to ensuing tragedy that follows The Great Gatsby through all its major plot beats.

I thought the magical aspects would be more part of the aesthetic, but the moment we learn why Gatsby became the way he is shows a mastery in blending historical fiction and fantasy. In terms of craft, it is on the same level as Vo’s The Singing Hills Cycle novellas. Dense and evocative, Vo is quickly becoming an insta-read author for me.

As far Jordan and her relationships go, I put my face in the novel and screamed at several moments. She and Daisy are best friends with an unrequited aspects, making a great intimate mirror to Gatsby’s feelings towards Daisy which are less filtered through Nick Carraway. Nick is also queer, but that too is unrequited. It’s such a tragedy, in enveloping atmosphere that’s dazzling and delightful.
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The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo re-imagines F. Scott Fitzgerarld’s The Great Gatsby in an inspiring, innovative, way. With subversion of the glamourization of the 1920s, rich and sultry prose, magic seamlessly inserted into the narrative, and lots of implicit queerness woven throughout, this was a highly enjoyable read that became one of my favourites of the year.

Jordan Baker, a queer Vietnamese immigrant, serves as the protagonist of Vo’s retelling. Through her perspective we get a new lens to address broad themes of sexuality, racism, sexism, and identity. While the plot adheres close to the original (close enough it would be beneficial to have an understanding of it first to appreciate the craft applied), the introduction of fantastical elements adds an evocative sense of wonder.

It’s hard for me to describe why I enjoyed this novel so much; it’s a story that will definitely get—and benefit from—a re-read for me. Part of it is definitely enjoying the deft examination of one of my favourite classics, because there’s a lot to unpack in the source material, which the author does with aplomb. This novel doesn’t answer all your questions and it can be slow paced at times, but that was part of the charm for me. 

In short, The Chosen and the Beautiful is an atmospheric gem of a novel, full of magical realism and best savoured in deliberate bites rather than rushed through. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a wonderful blend of subverted modernist literature in a fantastical setting.

Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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I love The Great Gatsby and have always hoped for a good retelling. Who else but Nghi Vo to bless me with this, written from the perspective of Jordon. The only thing that felt under developed to me was the somewhat 'magical' aspect of it.
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A retelling of The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective, The Chosen and the Beautiful dives deeper into these well known characters and develops their backstories with a fantastical, opulent backdrop of an alternate 1920s. 

I love Vo's writing — her Singing Hills Cycle is absolutely fabulous — and I was dying to know what her take on The Great Gatsby would be like. She does an amazing job of blending Fitzgerald's writing style and the general vibes of the original story with her own writing, creating a lush and gorgeous alternate 1920s with a magical backdrop. I really enjoyed the fact that while the magic does play a role in character backstory and the world building, it's not a magical version of The Great Gatsby. Her writing enhances the original tale beautifully, but doesn't change it.

The Chosen and the Beautiful brings the background characters to life in a really fantastic way. Jordan, my favourite character in the original story, is reimagined as a Vietnamese adoptee and a queer woman. Vo really bring her to life in such a wonderful way through her complex sense of identity and belonging. She also does a great job building up Daisy's character and making her into a complicated woman who is far from Gatsby's image of perfection.

The only part of the book that I found a little bit clunky was forcing some of Fitzgerald's imagery into this story. There's a particular bit at the end that just felt odd and out of place! Of course, The Great Gatsby is famous for its imagery (which is why so many of us were tormented by it in high school English class) so you'd expect to see it in a reimagining of the story, but some bits didn't work as well as others.

I'd recommend you read the original story before picking this up, as The Chosen and the Beautiful assumes you have knowledge of the plot of The Great Gatsby.
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With detailed, immersive writing, this book is more than a worthy retelling of the original book.  It was quick and entertaining, despite the plot dragging at times with over described points. However the spin on the characters and the focus on Jordan Baker made it relatable and enjoyable. The author clearly has a talent for storytelling, I would recommend this book to those wanting a quick but refreshing take on a classic.
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CWs: alcoholism and intoxication; infidelity; parental death; murder; racism and outdated racial epithets; references to suicide and abortion; some descriptions of vomit; graphic injury; and some scenes containing graphic sex

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a stunning Gatsby retelling that adds so much richness and depth that is absent from the original text. While The Great Gatsby is a fascinating, dramatic story about glamour and debauchery it leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the characters' motivation and circumstance. In this retelling, Nghi Vo seeks to answer those question by introducing magic and queerness to the story in a way that brings the events of Gatsby into new light, and the complexity presented by those new elements are shown to be every bit as necessary to the story as they are refreshing.

I love how magic is used in this story. It's very much woven into the fabric of this world and time period to the point of being commonplace. In the original story, we're told that Gatsby throws these hugely extravagant parties in the hopes of drawing Daisy's attention and luring her in, and while that is still true in The Chosen and the Beautiful, there's an added layer with the notion that perhaps Gatsby sold his soul to a demon and provides opportunity for gluttony and licentiousness in service of the underworld. It also provides another answer for how he came into fortune and how he can afford to throw these lavish parties night after night.

Magic is also connected to our main character, Jordan, who has the ability to create living creatures out of paper, which is connected to her Vietnamese heritage. It's really interesting to see her discover that power throughout the story, but also seeing how she is expected to use that power in service of the white people around her.

So the use of magic is commonplace to the point of it almost being inconsequential, and it's also seen as an "indulgence" that serves the purpose of entertainment. In that way, magic becomes yet another form of currency and status in this society, which further reflected in how the story explores money and wealth as its own form of magic. Money is connected to privilege, and when you have enough money you can open any door, conjure anything at your fingertips, and make anything you want become real. What is that, if not a kind of magic? By association, Jordan is folded into the protective circle of privilege afforded to her rich friends, and that privilege is magic enough to make her culture and her ethnicity "disappear" enough to make her "tolerable."

The addition of queerness in this retelling is also equally important, especially in how it reveals more about Gatsby's interest in Nick. He's drawn to Nick not simply because they lead vastly different lives or because of Nick's blood relation to Daisy (though that does play a role), but also in part because he desires him. By reimagining Jordan as a queer woman as well, The Chosen and the Beautiful takes what's merely implied in the original text and makes it explicit. And because Gatsby's parties are a space where all are welcomed and where anything can happen and be forgotten by morning, that would naturally create a site to explore queerness without fear of stigmatization or rejection. The story does what The Great Gatsby fails to do by acknowledging the historical existence of people who A) were not white and B) were not straight.

I also think it's so smart how the narrator providing an entryway to this story is yet another character who might otherwise be considered "a side character" at best, in the same way that Nick, in the original story, primarily plays the role of a witness. But unlike the original, there is historical precedent for why Jordan would be considered secondary, and it's because she's a Vietnamese immigrant. Because of her cultural background, she is considered to be "apart from" the Gatsby's and Daisy's of the world, even though they tend to run in the same circles. She is invited to witness and play accomplice in the on-goings of their lives, but she is not invited to center herself or take up space. Her friends allow her to be around because they consider her cultural experience to be dismissible and inherently secondary to their own lives.

And I think that ties into the greater questions presented in the story: What does it mean to be wanted? What does it mean to belong somewhere? How much are we entitled to, if anything? In that sense, there are so many powerful parallels between Jordan and Gatsby. They both surround themselves by hundreds of people without truly being known by anyone; neither are not free to pursue that which they really want, either because of opportunity or circumstance; and they both trend towards the destructive as they merely go through the motions of life. If something is available to you does that mean it belongs to you? That's a question both Gatsby and Jordan are struggling to answer in this story.

Overall, I found this to be an evocative and powerful retelling that made me look at the original in a completely new light. Through the addition of magic, queerness, and a POC narrator I was also able not only to engage with the story in a different way, but imagine myself in it for the first time. While the plot remains largely grounded in the original events, the story reads completely differently and stands on its own. Even though the it does feel a bit too slow-paced at times, it's still a beautiful and thoughtful story that gradually reveals more and more of itself the longer you sit with it, and that lingering longevity makes it wholly worthwhile.
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Great Gatsy retelling told from Jay Baker, Daisy’s friend from the original tale. A Jay Baker who is now a young, queer, adopted Asian woman who is magical. I’m sure you’re already as intrigued as I was when I first read the synopsis. Thank you to Tor Books for the e-galley via NetGalley. I am such a huge fan of Nghi Vgho’s writing. I’d read The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain this past year. Her writing is so highly fantastical and her storytelling is so magical that you cannot help but be drawn in by her writing. 

The Chosen and the Beautiful follows along the main plot line of The Great Gatsby. But while that may provide some literary nostalgia, readers will find that this new retelling is truly an original. Nghi Vo brings so much more magic, possibility, and depth to the story by making Jay Baker a young, queer, rich woman of an affluent family - who is also restricted by her Asian, adopted, and queer identity. It is a social commentary of the 1920s but with a much more diverse and interesting perspective than even The Great Gatsby manages to be.

The Chosen and the Beautiful takes on many of the elements that I now connect to Nghi Vo - the fantasy that underlies the ordinary and just the sense of never really knowing what may happen next in the story. She surprises you at every turn - even for a retelling of a well-known story that is The Great Gatsby. I was entranced by her magic once again and she is a must-read author.
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As we brace ourselves for the onslaught of The Great Gatsby spin offs, in the wake of its entering public domain, we should be sure to make room for the creative The Chosen and the Beautiful. Jordan Baker, not Nick, is the narrator this time around and we learn that she was most likely kidnapped as a baby in Vietnam and that she and Daisy go way back. From there the plot seems to be the same as the source material but looks can be deceiving, Supernatural elements and demons are treated as everyday occurrences and provide an interesting context to the original novel.
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Okay, not a surprise but I really enjoyed this book. I was hesitant about it at moments but I really loved the main character Jordan, I loved the queerness, the Asian American Perspective, the Magical Realism, the multiple timelines. All of it, I really enjoyed it. 

I will say that it was a little confusing at times and I wonder how much I may have missed if I hadn't read the original book. I also didn't realize how much of the magical realism element was part of the story until 40-50% into the book, which wasn't a smooth transition. Almost felt like I was reading two different books. 

I still enjoyed it quite a bit and will probably re-read it some day in the future.
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The writing of this story is absolutely gorgeous. The part that still stands out to me, even now a few weeks after reading, is the opening chapter. I cannot get over the images created and just how sensual these few pages are.

I definitely think it was the writing style pulling me through The Chosen and the Beautiful because, unfortunately, there were too many moments where I was just confused. Supposedly magic is a part of this world, but it only appears occasionally with very little explanation. The worldbuilding (for this aspect, at least) was not enough to submerge readers into it.

I was also a bit disappointed over the adoption rep. I was excited to see that this reimagined Jordan (who is the narrator) was adopted from Vietnam; however, this story did not explore her experience as much as I was expecting. I completely understand, as a fellow adoptee, that who I am does not revolve around being adopted, but since this was such a selling point and emphasized, I was a bit let down that Jordan being adopted was not play as big of a role that the synopsis suggested.

Lastly, The Chosen and the Beautiful closely follows the original Great Gatsby, which is fine enough, but sometimes it did not feel like the former developed a separate identity from the latter. Although The Chosen and the Beautiful is told from Jordan’s perspective (as a queer and adopted Vietnamese woman), there were moments when the new story mattered much.

Conclusion: I would recommend, but hesitantly. It really depends on whether the reader a) likes The Great Gatsby, b) likes flowery writing styles; if not, The Chosen and the Beautiful definitely is not for you; c) is at least semi-intrigued about spoiled characters. Otherwise, I would pass on this one.
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I am a fan of Nghi Vo's previous novellas, and was thrilled to be able to read a full-length novel by her. A retelling of one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby, but through the eyes of a queer Vietnamese-American Jordan Baker? With magic? 100% up my alley.

This book is successful in a lot of ways. The lush, hedonistic vibes of the book are skillfully rendered with Vo's descriptive and meandering style. I appreciated getting to view the story through the cool and exacting view of Jordan. The magic and demons were never really explained, which I imagine could be frustrating for some readers, but I thought it suited Jordan's indifference and diaspora.

Since this is a retelling, the main plot points and general story are the same as the original novel. No surprises there, but the novel does drag a bit in the last half. The details surrounding Jordan's home life with her aunt also weren't as interesting to me. Not sure if I missed some details or forgot backstory from the original book.

There was an absolutely heartbreaking twist in the last few pages that made me want to immediately reread the novel to see if I could have predicted it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Tor for a free eARC in exchange for my honest review.
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This was a beautiful and magical recreation of Gatsby. The modern and mystical characters were unique and full of intrigue. There was an added depth to the relationships as they take unexpected turns and scandalous connections emerge. There were a few missing connections for me, but overall, this is a wonderful book!
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