Book Review: The Chosen And The Beautiful

A vibrant and queer reinvention of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age classic.

NPR

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age.

She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Amazon

This is my SPOILER-FREE Book Review for

The Chosen And The Beautiful by Nghi Vo

I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.


I loved this book. 

I read this book a while back but hadn’t gotten around to writing about it. I have a few moments of downtime because I am procrastinating doing sprint intervals**, so why not write about it now?

I’m going to use my ASPECT method but will go backward! 

T: Why THIS Book?

It is a retelling of The Great Gatsby from the POV of a reimagined Jordan Baker who is now a queer Vietnamese adoptee with magical powers. I… don’t need any more than that to get super interested.

C: Characters

If you have read The Great Gatsby, seen either of the movies, or are an American of a certain age, you will know at least a few of the characters in this book. They are familiar yet different in subtle and not subtle ways. Many stay true to the ideas of Fitzgerald, but many are actually a bit more interesting. The POV is Jordan and while most of us are not rich queer Vietnamese socialites floating through life in the Jazz Age, (with magical powers) there are still elements of Jordan that most people can connect with. Her realness is never in doubt even as other characters take center stage at times. I love that we are getting this famous well-known story from the eyes of a side character, and this time that side character gets to become far more than multi-dimensional on the page.

E: Entertaining

Yes! I was intrigued and moved. Even though I knew how the story of Gatsy and Daiy was going to end, I was not sure how we were going to get there. There are enough slight twists and interesting layers that the familiar became almost alien but in the very best of ways.

P: Plot/Pacing

Again, the story beats are familiar but the way Vo manipulates them and adds to them is exquisite. This is not a fast book and there are surprises along the way.  I liked the twists but know that a second reading would give me plenty of bread crumbs… so while the surprises were unexpected, they were not outlandish. The changes that Vo makes to the original story seem to fit seamlessly and add more texture to what is already a classic. This is quite a feat.

S: Style

I love Vo’s writing. Her prose mimics Fitzgerald’s at times but is still modern and clearly written for a modern audience. Her writing does need a close read… this is not a book you skim for plot points. The action happens (sometimes buried) in paragraphs of artfully arranged prose. Dialogue is there, but it is not the vehicle that carries the story. Again, it feels like a novel written at a different time for a reader of today. I loved it. 

A: Atmosphere (Tone)

Magical realism. You have to be okay with, or downright enjoy, magical realism. I… don’t always dig magical realism and I have a pretty low tolerance for urban fantasy when it feels like schtick. (The Dresden Files books, for example, are not my cup of tea.) This level of magical realism is more than say Like Water For Chocolate but just as beautiful. In fact, there are times when we might cross the line from magical realism into straight-up speculative fiction/magic fantasy…. And I-for one- was here for it. 

Would I recommend it?

Yes. I pitched it to my book club and while not everyone liked it as much as I did, most people were glad to have read it. I think a few of the nay-say-ers hadn’t caught that it was going to have magical elements in it which can really throw you if you aren’t expecting it. Also, there were a few people who had not caught the gay subtext in the original and were kind of weirded out that this Gatsby was not at all subtly queer-coded. 

If the description of “beautifully written queer retelling of a classic but feminist and from a reimagined and now nonwhite side character” piques your interest, I think you will definitely enjoy this book.

** Why am I doing interval training? Because I joined a kickball team and apparently walking several miles a day has in NO way prepared me to be able to run to first base without getting slightly winded, forget about running to catch a pop fly and then having to throw it right away and actually get it to a teammate. Thus, new exercises are needed. Blarg. 



*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)

A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.

S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?

P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?

E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?

C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?

T This? Why did I read *This* book?