ARC Review: THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL by Nghi Vo (2021)

Genre: Adult Historical Fantasy
Year Release: June 2021
Buy Links: Bookshop.org | Unabridged Books | Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an ARC from the publisher
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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