Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Chosen and the Beautiful

Rate this book
Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2021)
Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

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, Asian, adopted, and 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.

Nghi Vo's debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.

260 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 2021

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Nghi Vo

29 books2,890 followers
Nghi Vo is the author of the acclaimed novellas The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain. Born in Illinois, she now lives on the shores of Lake Michigan. She believes in the ritual of lipstick, the power of stories, and the right to change your mind. The Chosen and the Beautiful is her debut novel.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,662 (18%)
4 stars
5,053 (34%)
3 stars
4,933 (34%)
2 stars
1,459 (10%)
1 star
363 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,374 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews153k followers
August 11, 2022
Oh, this book built such beautiful, ruinous, indelible images in my mind. The IMAGERY this book conjures. Still today, when I think back on the experience of reading it, I see freshly pressed silk slipping over skin and fingers sliding through hair and delicate cords of bright pearls shimmering on bare throats like sunrise on water. And a glimmer of something else too, something sharp and treacherous beneath the smooth surface: shards from a mirror that tipped off a shelf and shattered and rivulets of molten blood and faint scratches from a single nail painted slick black.

“Death doesn't come to Gatsby's,” went the rumor, and it might even have been true. Certainly ugliness didn't, and neither did morning or hangovers or hungers that could not be sated. Those things waited for us outside the gates, so whoever wanted to go home?

Nghi Vo reimagines The Great Gatsby with sensuality, queerness, and a glass-sharp beauty. For those of you who read and loved the original Great Gatsby, it will be like returning to a love-worn poem that had melted away into half-remembered snatches and finding that it contained a new meaning. Everything is new, and everything is familiar, all at once.

But Fitzgerald never managed writing as ravishingly beautiful as this. Vo's prose, with its luxuriance and precise command of tone, has a meticulous quality to it, as if every word were a jewel laid out very carefully on a tray. And I absolutely gnawed over it, read several passages out loud, rolled them out around my head, found out how they moved on my tongue, until it felt like I was absorbing them or they were absorbing me. Until there was no room in me for anything else. The things Vo does to and with language... goddamn.

The Chosen and the Beautiful is truly a remarkable achievement of craft. The plot of moves forward with languid grace, dropping like petals from a blown rose. I liked how the novel unwinds itself in its own way and in its own time, unfolding its clever complicated machinations with wicked skill; how it hoards its secrets like a miser their stash of gold and reveals its answers slowly, patiently. It is also a skillful feat of reinvention. The places where old memories meet new, new money meets old gods, and the beautiful mundane is interrupted by papercut magic—the places where the two stories crisscross, mash, and fight where they intersect—the novel’s own beautiful tense dance with its source material—constitute the novel’s most rewarding experiment.

The Chosen and the Beautiful knifes through the canon from which it sprung, sinks its jaws down to the bone, devours what’s rotten about it, and delicately chews it into a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience, a very deliberate indictment of white supremacy, and most winningly, a sharp, clear-eyed, and deep-diving delineation of the human nature, in all its complicated glory.

Much like Jordan Baker’s magic allows her to feel the spark in all paper and nurse it forth to make it grow into flame, Vo digs up characters we think we already know and shows us that they can be far more complicated and interesting than we ever dreamed.

Jordan Baker, the original, is a minor character in someone else’s play, required to stay in the story no matter how hard she resisted. But in Vo’s hands, she is rendered glaringly alive and impressive. Nghi Vo’s Jordan Baker is a dazzling, cruel rendition of the original: she is a beautiful, mordant socialite who sharpened herself into the kind of girl who wasn’t easy to shatter. She is a queer orphaned immigrant—plucked as a child from the soil of Tonkin by a white missionary woman and brought to America, where she snagged halfway between “a charming oddity and a foreign conspiracy”—who taught herself how to slip, like a silken ribbon, through predominantly rich, white, and cishet spaces. She is a magician learning how to lay more than just secret furtive claims to her heritage, as though it were a sun-warmed stone that is too hot for the touch.

Though Jordan draws the reader's attention like a beacon, Vo pours just as much care into her other characters. She lets Daisy slip her moorings—Daisy who is only true when she breaks, when all that was sweet in her withers and falls away, like a new apple splitting its rind to reveal a core crawling with maggots. And she draws as much fire from Nick’s character—Nick who had severed the strands of his past like stray threads before they could tie knots in his heart only to bind it in Gatsby’s coils. And, of course, there is Gatsby, with his elegant cruelty, his tender malevolence, and his eyes which pulled like the tide, no matter how hard you swam against it. Gatsby who had risen so far in the world by bartering away his soul, and had the whole city dancing to his tune, glittering in his halls, stumbling drunk, stupid with freedom, and crammed with demoniac. Gatsby who was unburdened by everything except desire, destroying himself in longing for magic, for money, for Daisy, for belonging, until the price was paid, and it was too late to claim it back.

Through her glittering and terrible characters, Vo tells a violently stunning story about existing half in one world, half in another, disdained and desired by both, and unable to decide where you belong, about the clenched fist of hunger in your belly that wants to seek, to be seen, to belong, and about the dreams that look like plumage but sit on your shoulders like a cloak lined with lead, threatening to press you, boneless, to the ground.

When I looked at famous Jay Gatsby, soul gone and some terrible engine he called love driving him now, I could see that for him, the world was always ending. For him, it was all a wreck and a ruin, and he had no idea why the rest of us weren't screaming.

I really loved this book. Like. You know that deep terrible wound of loving a story that does not love you back? There is something like sweet syrupy catharsis, like a salve, about Vo’s reimagining of The Great Gatsby that still washes over me in waves: how it folds back the curtains on what’s missing and fills in the gaps, how it invites questioning, interrogating, and lights up the dark shadows our monuments casts. How it feels edged, like a challenge: we will carve out a space in the stories that refuse to make rooms for us, and we will watch as new flowers spring up through the cracks, upright and open to collect the light.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
August 2, 2021
Dark and lyrical writing that pays an homage to Fitzgerald’s original, though the story itself left me wanting more. The book added a few magic elements and bits to the main character’s heritage that weren’t fully explored to my liking. I don’t mind light fantasy, but there seemed to be a disconnect between the main character’s heritage and magic VS a retelling of The Great Gatsby, rather than a more fluid combination. I wish the story truly felt like the main character’s own story (especially as a queer Asian immigrant!) instead of spending the majority of the time observing the other characters through her eyes - though you could argue that the author was replicating the same way Fitzgerald made Nick the observer in the original as well. I prefer retellings that shake things up more and can stand as its own story; perhaps this book would be better suited for readers who really love The Great Gatsby so that the appreciation for the original can sustain them.
Profile Image for may ➹.
480 reviews1,937 followers
June 28, 2021
Jordan Baker slips in and out of people’s lives and homes, not for being quiet or unreachable but for being exoticized for her Vietnamese looks and background, despite having enough wealth and status to fit in with high society. When I first heard of The Chosen and the Beautiful and its twist in retelling the story through Jordan’s eyes, I was intrigued. I’d wondered about Jordan’s character in the original The Great Gatsby, and I thought that Nghi Vo’s decision to make her a queer Vietnamese adoptee with magic would create a version of The Great Gatsby that I actually enjoyed. While I did like the book to a certain extent, as well as the way Vo wrote Jordan and made her feel more real than she did in the original, I wanted so much more from The Chosen and the Beautiful. More usage of the mysterious magic that seemed randomly mentioned at times, more exploration of identity, more diverging from the original story.

I wondered if that was what love was, making someone forget the pain that gnawed at them and would not stop.

There are two big reasons that this book fell flat for me, one being that it stays so strictly loyal to The Great Gatsby, and the other being that I was utterly bored by The Great Gatsby. It didn’t help that I’d read The Great Gatsby less than a year ago, which meant I remembered the original plotline well and therefore there was nothing new to entice me with where The Chosen and the Beautiful’s story went, barring the new changes Vo made. And those changes, unfortunately, were just not enough for me. I’d hoped the added elements would make the story more interesting for me—and they did, but only barely. The magic was something I was excited for, but it wasn’t extensive as I thought it would be. I was interested by the paper magic that Jordan practiced, especially as a form of heritage and exploring identity, but overall it felt as if the world and the story wouldn’t be much affected if you took the magic out. I also wished Vo had taken more time to really dive into Jordan’s anguish over her feelings of unbelonging—which sounds a little odd, but there were some places I thought could’ve done more justice to her struggles, I guess, rather than bringing them up and then moving on. The book as a whole seemed to have an issue of mentioning things (ie. demons, imps, feelings of internalized racism) but not actually going anywhere with them, when that was all I wanted.

When you’re alone so much, realizing that you’re not is terribly upsetting.

If the plot had differed more from The Great Gatsby, if the new twists Vo made had been carried out with more influence on the original storyline, I might have loved this. I still did enjoy it—Jordan’s character was exactly the way I imagined her and more, and Vo’s writing was genuinely stunning and brought the world of the glittering 1920s to life in a way Fitzgerald’s never did for me. I also almost DNFed this, when I read it a couple of months ago and couldn’t comprehend a single thing that was going on, but I enjoyed it more and felt more immersed in the story when I gave it another chance. If you are a fan of The Great Gatsby, though, or if you have never read it, you will likely adore this a lot more than I did. All I can say is that I am grateful this story exists for the people who will get to appreciate it more. Jordan Baker’s story of living delicately on the edge of loved or disdained is one many queer Asians can relate to, and hopefully, The Chosen and the Beautiful’s challenging of the straight white canon can help them feel that they deserve to take up a little more space in the world.


:: representation :: Vietnamese American wlw MC, part Thai mlm character, biracial (Black, Chippewa) character, Vietnamese side characters

:: content warnings :: murder, domestic abuse, racism (including internalized), drinking, abortion

// buddy read with my faves
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
May 10, 2023
I am, as everyone knows, a hater.

I love to have an unpopular opinion. Nothing brings me more joy than the anger and fear of others in my comment section. My sole purpose in this life is to upset the people around me via literary takedowns and nothing else.


I will never, ever, ever, EVER!!! DNF.

And this book is why.

I started out this book residing in Snooze City. I took a train to Sleepville with a one-way ticket, making stops in Boring Town, Dry Island, and Dull Junction. But I kept reading, because I'm stubborn.

And GUESS WHAT. It worked!

While this started out as a retelling that somehow managed to feel both too true to the original and not true enough, it turned into a crazy demonfest of magic and evil and Daisy and beautiful writing and more importantly, Daisy.

Another win for team refusing to learn from mistakes.

Bottom line: And another win for team Gatsby!

As in, team the book. Not team that bozo character.


i've read many books that started out as a 4 star read and slowly became a 2 star, but this is my first time experiencing the inverse.

feels weird.

review to come / 4ish stars

tbr review

i am a person who is made up of 75% water, 25% strong opinions, and some of my very strongest are on the great gatsby. let's see how reading a retelling goes
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews38.1k followers
Want to read
August 26, 2020


Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
401 reviews3,476 followers
February 1, 2023
The Chosen and The Beautiful is a retelling of The Great Gatsby told from the perspective of Jordan Baker. Jordan provides some important insights into the early years of Daisy Buchanan (formerly Fay) and Jay Gatsby.

Full disclosure: I am HUGE The Great Gatsby fan. Every time, I read that book it is magic. It makes me feel like a kid all over again, trying to reach out to grab an unattainable dream. Earlier this year, I read a book called Nick which was supposed to be a Great Gatsby prequel. It was horrible. It had none of the magic of The Great Gatsby, and it was just depressing and sad.

The Chosen and The Beautiful aligned with The Great Gatsby (it was consistent with the original story), and it also covered the same time period. Having Jordan Baker be the narrator was simply brilliant because it allowed for Vo to not have to try to completely replicate Fitzgerald - the tone and storytelling could be a bit different than the original and still remain consistent.

In terms of plot, I really enjoyed learning a bit more about Daisy's history and more details about what went on that summer. There was still a bit of magic in this book; however, it didn't rise to the level of Fitzgerald. Although developing the characters of Daisy and Jordan was enjoyable, I thought that this book was trying to accomplish too much by introducing Khai. This person just seemed to appear randomly throughout the book. Daisy and Jordan both had really great character development, showing them as imperfect characters.

The ending of the book was entirely forgettable, and it should have been much stronger.

Overall, this is one of the best retellings (aside from Song of Achilles) that I have ever read, and I am looking forward to reading more by this author.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

Connect With Me!
Blog Twitter BookTube Facebook Insta
Profile Image for Robin.
309 reviews1,425 followers
May 5, 2021
↠ 5 stars

This Great Gatsby retelling with a queer Asian main character has reinvented an American literary classic entirely for the better. Legendary pro golfer Jordan Baker has never been one to shy away from success. Being a queer, adopted, Vietnamese immigrant means having to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in a world that likes to treat her like an exotic centerpiece more often than not. With the 1920’s set in motion, the secluded speakeasies and intoxicating parties are at the center of focus, but for Jordan her past is a constant presence demanding inquiry. In this stellar debut, author Nghi Vo peels back the gilded exterior of a decade to reveal its flawed heart. A magical, glimmering testament to retellings everywhere, and the future of the literary canon.

When I heard that one of my favorite authors was taking a stab at reimagining one of the most iconic American novels, I could not wait to get my hands on an early copy. The Great Gatsby has never been of any real interest to me after being told to read it for english class in high school. It’s one of those stories that just barely grazed the surface of the complexity of the characters and the time period in which it was centered. A story that, in my opinion, has been extremely overly fixated on in the American education system for it being what it is: rather monotonous. In that way, Nghi Vo has expertly reexamined this classic, creating a layered character study full of all the glitz and glam associated with the roaring twenties. Having read Vo’s previous two novellas When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and The Empress of Salt and Fortune, the idea that this would be a devastatingly heartbreaking debut did cross my mind. That the actual story went above and beyond my expectations is truly astonishing. Jordan Baker particularly, has quite a reputation for being a rather overlooked character from the original novel and I loved everything that Vo infused into the barebones of her character. The exploration of her Vietnamese heritage and her magical affinity tied in with the rest of the story in a way that was so inventive. As we progress through the events that mirror those of the first half of the original novel, we see them through Jordans eyes, while Vo simultaneously examines the negative aspects corresponding to the time period. The complexities to Jordans identities come into play in new ways, while the story starts to deviate and take on its own form, creating what is an altogether new commentary on race, gender, and class for the decade. What this has wholeheartedly exemplified is that every classic should be getting a retelling. I fully expect that The Chosen and the Beautiful will be replacing The Great Gatsby in every high school curriculum upon its release. This beautiful, evocative novel will have fans of literary fiction waiting on bated breath for more from its brilliant author.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review

Trigger warnings:blood, violence, death, death of a loved one, abortion, alcohol consumption, cheating, racism, homophobia, microaggressions
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
August 8, 2021
i thought this was going to be a retelling of ‘the great gastby,’ so imagine my surprise when i discovered its is basically the original story, but told from the POV of a new character and with some new scenes thrown in there. and because of that, i dont think this will fully resonate with readers who arent a fan of the original story. as someone who thought ‘the great gastby’ was just okay, i found this just okay, as well.

while NVs writing is actually really lovely, i think the fantasy element is where she had the biggest opportunity to show her originality in this retelling. however, i thought the fantasy element was unnecessary for the majority of the novel. there are only a few brief scenes that show/mention the magic and it made me wonder why this retelling didnt just stick to historical fiction, as the fantasy portion didnt really add anything to the story and felt out of place. but then i read the last chapter and i saw glimpse of how great it could have been. the fantasy element creates a twist that is actually really interesting, so much so that i wish it had played a larger part in the book and had more of a development.

again, this is a story that will no doubt be enjoyed by fans of ‘the great gatsby.’ but as a retelling, i found it to be lacking in some areas. however, i did like NVs writing, so i would be wiling to pick up her next book (fingers crossed it will be an original story).

3.5 stars
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews38.1k followers
June 8, 2021
Slow and moving, this one takes the classic spin of the tale we all know and love- expanding the story to brighter and better heights in Nghi Vo's The Chosen and the Beautiful.

Not gonna lie, I had rather high expectations regarding this book. This retelling is almost point for point from the original storyline with some slight key differences. The parties though, are definitely a spectacular sight to explore and feel through. I just wished there were more elements that were explored and explained upon in the book (Jordan's ability, the magic system, maybe even forking off from the original stance and story of the Great Gatsby and blooming into something else, something vastly different.)

Overall, somewhat ravishing and delightful, it still didn't quite quench that thirst and curiosity I had prior before heading into the book. You can watch my reading vlog here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EcB_....

Twitter | Bookstagram | Youtube |
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,165 reviews98.2k followers
June 13, 2021

ARC provided by Tor - thank you so much!

"...like some kind of sacrament that I had forgotten to take."

a queer asian-american main character great gatsby? i knew i needed this in my life. i will be honest, i have never been the biggest fan of the great gatsby, so i do believe this impacted my enjoyment a little bit, because this book does very much still hold true to the original work! but i still thought this was a beautiful reimaging, with such lush prose and one liners, that left my heart beating so very quickly so many times. the magic was also so hauntingly perfect and i know it's something i'm going to think about constantly for quite some time. the themes of identity within the story were also very important, and how no matter how much you feel like you fit in, people will always remind you that you will never truly be one of them. and the themes of identify outside the story, and how we deserve to carve out our own spaces, we deserve to be the main protagonists of beloved classics and modern day lit, and our voices deserve to not only be told, but to be amplified really was everything to me as a queer asian reader.

i can't wait to read more by this author, and i'm very thankful that the chosen and the beautiful is a book that exists.

content and trigger warnings: a lot of talk of drinking, talk of war, talk of loss of loved ones, death, murder, racism, microaggressions, a lot of cheating, abuse / domestic abuse, mention of suicide, mention of slavery, mention of blood.

Blog | Instagram | Youtube | Ko-fi | Spotify | Twitch

Buddy read with May, Ju, & Maëlys!
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
849 reviews5,813 followers
May 20, 2022
there was a monstrous want there, remorseless and relentless, and it made my stomach turn that it thought itself love.

When I first heard The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo was a queer The Great Gatsby retelling featuring Jordan as a queer Vietnamese refugee “rescued” by wealthy white socialites, I instantly knew this was something I needed. I had quite enjoyed her earlier novella The Empress of Salt and Fortune and knew F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic was in capable hands. This novel surprised me, all in good ways, and truly enhances the original. By centering the perspective with Jordan, Vo centers a BIPOC woman experience in what was a male-driven novel and unlocks a treasure trove of fresh impressions. Truth be told, I’ve never been all that enamoured with Gatsby. I’ve read it thrice for three different classes (which really demonstrated how good teaching really changes your thoughts on a book) and while Fitzgerald can write a perfect sentence and there are many layers of brilliance in it, it’s not one I think of often. So revisiting it in this way was very enticing. Vo brings the original to life in fresh, exciting ways that examine race, class and demonic powers (YEP) in this absorbing rendition of a classic.

In her essay On the Politics of Literature, Judith Fetterley wrote of The Great Gatsby:
[T]he background for the experience of disillusionment and betrayal revealed in the novel is the discovery of America, and Daisy’s failure of Gatsby is symbolic of the failure of America to live up to the expectations in the imaginations of the men who “discovered it”. America is female; to be American is male.’

To this final statement Nghi Vo is here to add the attribute “white”. In Chosen and the Beautiful, Jordan is able to be included in the circle of high society (white) people, but due to being Vietnamese she often finds doors closed and elbows ready to keep her at bay. She is often seen at best as a curiosity and tokenism in a high society that often demands gratitude as if to minimize individual traumas. Perhaps the most important fresh perspectives on Fitzgerald’s novel, which does directly confront class relations and the gatekeeping of established family dynasties, are the ways in which Vo investigates aspects of racism, misogyny and colonialism that are glossed over or ignored in white, male literature about the era.

Granted, Fitzgerald opens his novel with Tom citing xenophobic rhetoric he read from a book. Vo’s novel begins here as well. While it is fairly brushed off by Fitzgerald’s characters, it does a lot of heavy lifting of character-building to let you know exactly what kind of rich white man Tom is and rightfully casts judgement on the rest of the room for allowing it unchecked. With Vo we see how this makes Jordan uncomfortable, but her silence isn’t one of accommodation but a coached silence anyone outside the obdurate “norm” has had imposed upon them. This xenophobia continues in Vo’s novel as discussion of Congress working on a racist “Manhattan Act”, always reminding Jordan that despite how far she has made it into powerful circles she is ultimately Othered and unwanted, a lesson Fitzgerald’s Gatsby learns in terms of class and “old vs new money”. Of the class conflict, Vo dives in and shows how systemic it is with race and conquest, giving a shape to the evils at the heart of this that demands that ‘there would always be a human price for his luxury’. While this isn’t the primary theme of the novel, it casts a long shadow over every page.

Through Jordan, Vo is able to spend much of the novel looking at her relationship with Daisy and examining her character in fresh ways. ‘Don’t get too close to Daisy Fey,’ she is warned, ‘only a disaster my dear.’ While the novel can be quite critical of Daisy, it also examines the power imbalance between men and women in society. Jordan is also sexually fluid with both men and women, which is an excellent touch to a book expanding on the various power hierarchies of the original text. ‘She said things, they lit up gold in the air, and then they fell to nothing like so much cigarette ash,’ Jordan says of Daisy, paralleling Gatsby’s disillusionment in a new way.

It wasn’t until the third class I’d read Gatsby that a professor finally pointed out the scene where Nick goes home with an older man and that his passion for Gatsby as well as his willingness to aid him and believe in him may have come from romantic aspirations. Here Nick’s relation with Gatsby is much more laid bare for multiple purposes and quite wonderfully fleshes out Nick’s character and motives even though he is decentered into a peripheral character. It’s astonishing how well Vo brings the novel to a new, full life through a perspective shift.

What is really exciting about this novel is the inclusion of magic and necromancy. Which is not what I expected and I don’t want to get into much because even the jacket blurb managed to not spoil anything for once. But when it says this book is magic, it is meant literally (though the writing and achievement of this novel is magical on its own merits). Early we see Jordan unlocking a magic power that is similar to those in the title story of Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. While we consider how Jordan is able to draw from old world traditions and mysticism, it becomes alarming that white middle-America Gatsby seems to have somehow accessed magic as well. What terrible deeds, ‘infernal powers,’ and dark dealings lead to this?
You kept the party going for Hell and for New York. You opened the doorway to all the fun...you became the lynchpin holding Hell to Earth, and how they all loved you for it.’

Gatsby’s parties seem to bewitch people. ‘Death doesn't come to Gatsby's,” went the rumor, and it might even have been true.’ He holds power over others like a vampire. If you fear this novel is getting too close to something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies rest assured that this isn’t a classic with demons added in but utilizing dark magic as a way to further the metaphorical investigations of power, greed and human frailty. The book is more akin to the way N.K. Jemisin embodies gentrification and racism as demonic possession in The City We Became.

Nghi Vo has an incredible ability to recreate the source material and blend it with her own original story in a way that successfully enhances the original in fun and thought-provoking ways. Every time I worried it might be too much, Vo demonstrated a deft hand and truly pulls off a magic of her own. Honestly, I could have done with less source material as it overly relies upon it, but it really works. This is a fantastic tribute and critique of the original novel and while there will likely be some stuffy academics crying foul, the original is not sacrosanct and Vo has more than proven herself. This novel is quite the event and full of uproarious pleasures like one of Gatsby’s grand parties.

Profile Image for Nataliya.
743 reviews11.8k followers
July 3, 2021
I don’t usually care for retellings, literary or cinematic. Don’t even get me started on those endless Spider-Man remakes unless you want to hear me grumble old-codger-style about those damn hacks who cannot come up with a good original story. The only sorta-retellings I enjoy are those that are more original than derivative, those that take inspiration from the original and use it as a springboard, soar above and beyond it, make it something truly fresh and new and not just a rehash of the old story (Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch vs The Omen, for instance).

Take these views into account as you read this review. I can’t claim to be unbiased, and why should I be?

Another thing to consider is whether Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby needed a retelling — or was using it simply a clever way to sell the story, since it seems that almost everyone has read or at least heard of that literary classic? I loved the only book by Nghi Vo I’ve read so far - The Empress of Salt and Fortune - but the only reason I came to this book was Fitzgerald’s original — and I suspect I am not the only one. I like Gatsby, I like stories with magic — so I decided to try it. I even reread The Great Gatsby before starting this, for research purposes, and paid extra attention to Jordan Baker, a socialite and a golfer, maybe a liar, Daisy’s friend and Nick Carraway’s girlfriend. And maybe this would have been better if I haven’t done that, if I didn’t realize how much of the successful parts of this book was little but straight recount of Fitzgerald’s book.

In “Gatsby” Jordan Baker gets a bit of a rough treatment. A single young and rich woman, a hard partyer and professional golfer who her boyfriend Nick Carraway suggests may be “incurably dishonest” — (“She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.”) — but one with charm and backbone, the one who you wonder may have not been quite seen right by Nick.

It’s the exchange between Jordan and Nick that’s one of my favorite paragraphs in The Great Gatsby, the one that says so much about all the careless cruel characters in that book:
“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”
“I am careful.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”
“Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.”
“I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”

So what do we get here, in Vo’s retelling through Jordan’s eyes? Well, have you ever thought after finishing The Great Gatsby that what this story lacked was magic and alcohol-soaked ever-present sexuality and a female gaze? Here you get all of those, and the quality of those is, sadly, uneven. And there are too many themes all jostling for attention which none of them gets enough - otherness and racism and sexism and magic and the Jazz Age.

Jordan is a single woman with a career and money, who seems to have quite a bit of fun in the Roaring Twenties. Vo makes this blonde socialite WASP into a Vietnamese adoptee, adding to the hurdles stacked against her in life, hurdles that are not fully compensated for by money — although money seems to still suit Jordan as she is still cluelessly rich.
“We both knew, of course, that my place in her world was tenuous at best and only growing more tenuous the older I became, but she acted as if she could wave that all away with the force of her personality and will.”

And here’s what I was worried about when I first heard about this book. It is very much a *retelling* of The Great Gatsby, not a reimagining or result of inspiration. No, it follows Fitzgerald’s story to a T, except just wordier and more wistful, with a sprinkle of show-offshish tired worldliness. A few scenes are added, and a few are omitted as Jordan was not present for those in the original (although here she’s dragged to Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion because not showing that would be unacceptable), but it really is a pretty straightforward recounting of the original story, with a bit of background magic and overt sexuality sprinkled in — and what The Great Gatsby was lacking was depiction of fervent oral sex, said no one ever:
“Skin’s skin, and he liked mine. His large hands curled around my thighs, and there was a kind of Middle Western, old religion fervor to how he devoured me. His people weren’t that far from the tent revivals that spoke of angels like spinning chariot wheels in the sky and demons under every apple tree, and he chased my pleasure like it might be his very own salvation.”

Those Fitzgerald’s scenes that were skipped since Jordan wasn’t there remain important although not featured, because of course you are expected to be familiar with the original novel before approaching the retelling. Already knowing Gatsby’s origins and the dynamic between Gatsby, Tom and Nick, and Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson — all these are not strictly necessary here but you are still expected to know them, to see those details in the story, to understand this world already built for us and Nghi Vo by someone else. And the best, most memorable scenes are those recounted straight from Fitzgerald, with all the best lines from that book and a few expanded additions here and there. Perhaps if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby or had forgotten it sufficiently (which I haven’t since I reread “Gatsby” just a few days ago), then some of Fitzgerald’s brilliance could be seen as belonging to this story — but really, it’s the original shining through. The non-Fitzgerald scenes are much less memorable, and the worldbuilding for those is not enough to sustain them.

Yes, that damn worldbuilding. For a “realistic” book the task is usually simpler — we know the world since we live in it, so the details and underpinnings of it are known to us. In fantasy, when things not from our usual reality are introduced, they need to feel like they belong in the world rather than being a set decoration. That’s where I think Vo does not quite succeed — because all that magic is superfluously shoehorned into a story that goes along without needing it, and even after finishing the entire book I still have just the vaguest idea of how it works in the structure of this world or how big of a deal it is.

That fantasy part, that damn unnecessary magic. Jordan can do magic, and magic seems to be intended as an organic part of this world — but sadly, it seems to be paper-thin, an unintended pun on Jordan’s paper magic which didn’t even occur to me until after I typed this sentence. Regardless of whether it’s fantasy, I like when things make sense and follow the internal logic of the world depicted, but here there’s not much of it, it’s just randomly sprinkled here and there for no obvious reasons. Demoniac blood drinks and soulless Gatsby and living paper cutouts abound - but the worldbuilding is paper-thin, other than what came straight out of Fitzgerald’s source novel — and on that thinly built landscape the magic does not take root well. It’s just glanced over until we out of the blue get paragraphs like the one below, feeling jarringly unnecessary as they keep being thrust upon us without buildup or much internal logic because it’s only brought up when needed for a pretty sentence:
“He had sold his soul, and in exchange for the power to be a man worthy of Daisy Fay, he had created a way station for Hell, a little piece of the infernal in West Egg where the demoniac never stopped flowing and where no one ever noticed if someone disappeared and came back strange and hollow, or never came back at all. Hell was as expansionist as France or England—and Jay Gatsby, with his singular focus and ability to harness the power of human desire, was the perfect envoy to gain them a foothold in the world above.”

But — seriously, until this paragraph 81% in, there was very little indication of all that, amidst all the retelling of the story that was told before. If this wasn’t explicitly spelled out just now, it would not have been important in this book at all. That’s unimpressive. That’s barely even set dressing.

Jay Gatsby is from his very first appearance a villain in this story, for no particular reason except that Jordan dislikes him greatly and he’s Jordan’s rival for Nick’s affections. His evilness is reaffirmed in the end — we are told so in the end, that is — but I never got that when actually reading his scenes; what I saw was a bit envious and irrational dislike of him (and yet no such dislike for Daisy and Tom - which makes me wonder about Jordan’s shrewdness), by a woman who seemed a bit patronizingly condescending in her interactions even with Nick whom she supposedly cared about. And Jordan, despite all that sexual agency and added background of ethnic tensions and poorly developed paper magic and self-indulgent socialite life, seems actually a bit more superficial - but much more melodramatic - than her role in “Gatsby” was. She was still an entitled and a bit shallow privileged socialite — but the one who expected you to feel for her plight as the privilege was a bit less than what others had. In short, Jordan Baker comes across as exhausting, but cluelessly so.

The writing itself is skilled and the imagery is vivid (it’s Nghi Vo who wrote superb The Empress of Salt and Fortune, after all) but it often veers into a bit of melodramatically overwrought territory. And had I not had Fitzgerald’s prose so fresh in my memory, I probably would have not noticed it so much — but that’s the risk you are running if you rewrite a well-known story.

And of course, that obligatory twist at the end. No, it does not make sense; it comes from nowhere and to me rings false (unless you assume that anyone who challenges Jordan Baker’s worldview is either evil or . But if Jordan’s story had actually started there, at the end, inspired by the events of “Gatsby” rather than being a melodramatic magicky “retelling” that falls short of the original, I think it could have had potential as an inspiration behind someone that’s more than a simple retreading of laid out paths. As my inner crabby codger would say, go write something that’s really fresh and new, don’t count on something already there to give you wings and make you fly when all you add is a perspective shift and vague pretty magic.

Until then, as it stands, it seems a bit like those pretty but insubstantial parties of Gatsby’s that apparently our Jordan so detested. Too much glitter and glamour but not enough substance. It’s trying too hard, like poor Gatsby did — and it’s not enough.

Unimpressed 2.5 stars. Nghi Vo did much better in her novella The Empress of Salt and Fortune. If like me, you disliked this “Gatsby” retelling but want to see what Vo can do with original material, read that one instead, you won’t regret it. Also, if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, do it.
Profile Image for Alix Harrow.
Author 37 books15.8k followers
September 28, 2020
this is the kind of book that drowns you and leaves you grateful. sweltering, sexy, subversive, smart (look i have an alliteration problem), atmospheric, haunting, dreamy. paper magic. summer in the city. complex, fraught identities negotiated in secret speakeasies and gin-soaked parlors. it was so GOOD.
Profile Image for Samantha.
416 reviews16.7k followers
September 29, 2021
3.5 stars

This is The Great Gatsby but told from the POV of Jordan, a minor flapper side character in the original, reimagined as an adopted Vietnamese woman living in high society NYC. The setting is also fantastical, with added fabulism so you can never quite tell what is metaphor and what is magic, with a plethora of things like demons, fae, etc. While I did enjoy Jordan’s perspective as it definitely centers on her and her experience, I wish those magical bits had been utilized more. But also, this was very queer, which was another good twist on the original and followed different themes than the original. Nearly every character is queer and that adds to the dynamics and characters, and puts a new spin on things. While I would have loved more of the world impacting the story, this was a unique take on an old story.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,032 reviews48.4k followers
June 19, 2021
Nghi Vo’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is completely ridiculous, and I love it with the passion of a thousand burning hearts.

Not only does Vo capture the timbre of Fitzgerald’s lush prose, but she follows the trajectory of the novel’s contrails into another realm. This is a version of “The Great Gatsby” in which partygoers drink demon blood, sorcery twists the beams of reality, and Jay Gatsby is a bisexual vampire.

Finally, the story makes sense.

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Alexis Hall.
Author 50 books10.8k followers
October 10, 2022
Source of book: Bought by me (well, technically bought *for* me by a friend)
Relevant disclaimers: None
Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author.

And remember: I am not here to judge your drag, I mean your book. Books are art and art is subjective. These are just my personal thoughts. They are not meant to be taken as broader commentary on the general quality of the work. Believe me, I have not enjoyed many an excellent book, and my individual lack of enjoyment has not made any of those books less excellent or (more relevantly) less successful.

Further disclaimer: Readers, please stop accusing me of trying to take down “my competition” because I wrote a review you didn’t like. This is complete nonsense. Firstly, writing isn’t a competitive sport. Secondly, I only publish reviews of books in the subgenre where I’m best known (queer romcom) if they’re glowing. And finally: taking time out of my life to read an entire book, then write a detailed review about it that some people on GR will look at would be a profoundly inefficient and ineffective way to damage the careers of other authors. If you can’t credit me with simply being a person who loves books and likes talking about them, at least credit me with enough common sense to be a better villain.


This book is an exquisite, brutal masterpiece, and absolutely confirms my post Siren Queen conviction that Nghi Vo is simply one of the finest writers in SFF. Or likely any genre she cares to turn her hand to. The Chosen and the Beautiful has elements recognisable from Siren Queen—dazzling prose, assured world-building, complicated characters, gorgeously depicted queerness—but it is also wholly its own thing. And the fact that I loved it as passionately as I did (as passionately as I loved Siren Queen) I am honestly inclined to attribute to infernal sorcery on the author’s part because, listen, words cannot express how viscerally, how profoundly, how soul searingly I despise The Great Gatsby.

I mean seriously. The American Dream is an illusion and now you’re sad? That’s it? That’s the book? Are you fucking kidding me, Francis? Oh, and the American Dream is going to be represented by a woman because, oh do you see, women are just LIKE the American Dream: we think they are so beautiful and so pure and we want them so badly and so we ruin ourselves in our pursuit of them, but in reality they’re just going to plough down someone in our car and leave us to take the fall. And let’s throw in some racism and antisemitism too? SUPER FUN.

Except wait. What’s that you say? The Great Gatsby is queer. Why yes, yes it is. But it uses queerness explicitly to represent moral decay. That is not … that is not a good thing. Like, it genuinely fucks up my heart that we are so desperate to see ourselves in fiction that we eagerly embrace even texts that are actively hurtful to us. Francis Scott Key is not on our side. The Great Gatsby may include us, but it is not for us or about us. And, honestly, it has kind of weirded me out—now the book is in the public domain—that there’s been this rush to re-write Gatsby as a queer romance. Especially because to do that, you kind of have to wilfully ignore so much of the central text, like Nick’s unreliable dreadfulness, Gatsby’s rapacious desires, and the way queerness is used quite deliberately to underscore both Nick’s unreliable dreadfulness and Gatsby’s rapacious desires. I mean, I don’t know, maybe turning into that lovestory is subversive or reclamatory or something? But if I had my way we’d just throw the thing out the window and never think of it again.

Except then we wouldn’t have The Chosen and the Beautiful. Which, while it hasn’t reclaimed Gatsby for me, has at least made me glad that The Great Gatsby exists. Because if we didn’t have The Great Gatsby, we couldn’t have The Chosen and the Beautiful. And I swear to God, The Chosen and the Beautiful is the only good thing about that fucking book.

Err, in case I haven’t made it clear, The Chosen and the Beautiful is a Gatsby take. The narrator is Jordan Baker (you remember Jordan Baker, right, she’s the lesbian-coded golfer Nick has a nearly-thing with, and pretty much the only semi-decent person in the whole book), re-imagined as both explicitly queer and also Vietnamese, “rescued” from her family by the Bakers and brought to America, where she has been raised in a western context. Jordan, therefore, makes the perfect narrator for a Gatsby re-telling, someone who is genuinely “within and without” as Nick—a straight-passing cisgendered white man—hilariously claims for himself in the original. The Gatsby/Daisy/Nick plot proceeds almost beat-for-beat like the original, but Jordan offers us a whole new perspective on them, one that develops alongside her own shifting perspective of her own identity.

Honestly, there are so many layers to this book, it feels kind of diminishing to be categorising it as a Gatsby re-telling. I mean, it couldn’t exist without the source material, but the way it engages with the it was so fascinating to me that I stopped in the middle of The Chosen and the Beautiful to re-read The Great Gatsby (about which I think I’ve made my feelings very clear). As with Siren Queen, Vo weaves magical elements deftly and naturalistically into her setting. I know there are some readers for whom this lightness of touch (she very rarely explains her magic to readers, simply allowing it to exist for her characters) runs counter to the expectations of the genre but it really works for me: it allows the magic to *feel* magical in its mysteriousness, as well as to carry allegoric weight within the text itself.

In The Chosen and the Beautiful we have several “kinds” of magic referenced, all of which serve to evoke the same tensions between the old and the new, the marginalised and the powerful (to say nothing of the chosen and the beautiful, oh do you see) that are riven, albeit with less awareness, through the original. Gatsby, for example, has connections to a demonic underworld (one whose greed, whose drive towards literal consumption, holds up a mirror to the devil bargain’s the original Gatsby has struck with capitalism). Jordan possesses magic of her own—the power of creating life, or a semblance of it, from paper representations—but it is a magic she does not understand, and somewhat fears, rooted as it is in her heritage. Daisy, by contrast, dabbles in glamours, whimsy and illusion. In one of the early chapters, she and Jordan take a charm that allows them to fly around the house—a sly literalisation of Nick’s description of their fluttering white dresses in The Great Gatsby. The literalisation of Fitzgerald’s metaphors (“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…”) is a device The Chosen and the Beautiful returns to on several occasions and, while initially presented playfully as in the flying sequence, ultimately underpins some of the book’s darkest themes in incredibly effective (and disturbing) ways.

God, what else can I say about the sheer brilliance of this book. The characterisation is superb, at once true to the original text, while building on its assumptions and implications in fascinating ways. All of the characters are allowed to glitter with their own awful charisma, though none quite as awfully nor as charismatically as Gatsby himself:

When I looked at famous Jay Gatsby, soul gone and some terrible engine he called love driving him now, I could see that for him, the world was always ending. For him, it was all a wreck and a ruin, and he had no idea why the rest of us weren’t screaming.

It was Vo’s take on Nick, though, that I initially struggled with the most. In the original text he is, of course, a pretty appalling person (anybody, fictional or otherwise, claiming honesty as one of their primary characteristics should give you all the red flags) but it’s clear that interpretation wouldn’t work here because, unlike in The Great Gatsby where Nick’s love affair with Jordan is little more than a background distraction, that relationship is central in The Chosen and the Beautiful. The Nick of the original text is not the kind of person that this complicated, fully-realised Jordan could realistically love. What The Chosen and the Beautiful chooses to work with, then, is the strange blankness and malleability of the character and, by the end of the book, I was fully sold. Especially because allowing Nick and Jordan to experience a genuine emotional connection—however doomed (and don’t come at me with complaints about spoilers, that’s how it goes in the original Gatsby and that book was written in 1925)—gives depth and nuance, and a bittersweet poignancy, to the whole text. Instead of just “wow, everyone is ghastly, oh now one of them is dead”—which is what the original offers. There’s also, and I don’t want to over-focused on this, because The Chosen and the Beautiful excels in so many ways, an absolutely stunning sex scene between Jordan and Nick at the midway point of the book. It’s intimate, its sexy, it’s queer, and utterly embedded in the emotional dynamic between the two characters—the sort of thing the romance genre could (and frankly should) learn from.

“That messy entangling anger had gone out of him, leaving him sweeter and more pliable. I didn’t mind the sadness; he wore it like a girl might wear a becoming if old-fashioned veil. It left him open in a way he hadn’t been before, raw and pretty and intriguing.”

I’ve peppered this review with quotes, just so you can see the writing speak for itself. Like, Holy God, can Vo turn a gorgeous sentence. I am usually a restrained highlighter but my copy of The Chosen and the Beautiful is nothing but highlighting. I don’t think there’s a misplaced word in this entire book:

Crossing from the main road through the gates of his world, a chill swirled around you, the stars came out, and a moon rose up out of the Sound. It was as round as a golden coin, and so close you could bite it. I had never seen a moon like that before.

Seriously, it could give me Stendhal syndrome, I felt so giddy on it sometimes. Of course, much like in the original Gatsby, the beauty is a trap. There is a lot of ugliness at the heart of The Chosen and the Beautiful. In TGG, of course, that ugliness is the possibility that a white man can’t get the woman (or the America) he dreams he has a right to. For Jordan, for all she does her best to believe it won’t affect her due to her connections, it’s something called The Manchester Act: an anti-immigration bill, inspired I think by some real pieces of legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, aimed at expelling Asian people from America. This passes the day Gatsby dies (again, not a bloody spoiler, he dies in the original story), and serves as a stark reminder that the disillusionment with America, and the American Dream, the original text represents can only exist in a world that allows you to believe those things ever belonged to you at all. Thankfully, at this point in The Chosen and the Beautiful, Jordan has already begun to reckon with who she is and her place in western society. Through Khai, a Vietnamese man she meets providing entertainment at one of Gatsby’s party, she is offered a glimpse of everything that her American family have stripped from her. While Jordan is, in her way, as decadent, selfish and cynical as her peers, she is neither cruel nor careless in the way they are. This is not a story for happy endings but it is a story for making choices and, by the end of the book, Jordan—with great knowledge of herself, as a queer Vietnamese woman—has more than she started with.

Like Gatsby, she has her green light. But while, for Gatsby, it represents something nostalgic and unattainable, for Jordan it offers a kind of hope, something that can, indeed, be sought after: hope for a world of family, belonging and love that exists beyond the gaze, or the grasp, of white privilege.
Profile Image for Hanna.
205 reviews133 followers
March 14, 2023
3 Glittering Stars!

Honestly the issue lies with me reading a (The Great Gatsby) retelling when I know I have never been a fan of the original to begin with. I just saw that it’s the queer magical version with an Asian MC, so it’ll be a hit and sadly it was just okay. There were many elements I liked overall, but nothing that swept me away even with all the glitz and glam.

The writing is stunning and what kept me along for the journey. I craved more of Jordan in this as she faded into the background, and less of the characters I already am not the biggest fan of. So many lines were blurred between love and friendship with them all, and it was a little hard to keep up with. The fantasy/magic parts to it were also unnecessary in my opinion.

Overall this is a case of the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ syndrome. I’m sure if you love The Great Gatsby or have never read it, this would be amazing!

How did I discover this:
Cover thoughts:
B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L! This cover enchanted me!
Single - Jordan Baker

“There are women who will forgive a great deal for a moment of kindness from a handsome man, but Daisy and the other older girls who had taken me under their wings had taught me not to be one of them.”

“He wanted something agreeable, something sweeter around the edges, but I was never very good at sweet.”

“Sometimes, the only excuse for doing something stupid is knowing that you are doing it and being willing to accept the consequences.”

Racism, Death, Sexual Content, Infidelity, Abortion, Sexism, Homophobia, Car Accident, Toxic Relationships, Drugs/Alcohol, Physical Abuse, Domestic Abuse, Classism, Verbal Abuse, Swearing, Violence, etc.
Profile Image for Hayley.
Author 2 books4,066 followers
January 30, 2022
I loved this book! more in-depth review to come closer to its release date!
March 7, 2023
Marketed as a retelling of The Great Gatsby meets a little magic and the realism of sexuality in the roaring 20s... I'm sad to say I'm DNFing this twisty, mystically shrowded tale at 50%.

- When I started reading this, I was excited that Vo's tale was primed to be a more accurate take of those decade(s) including other sexualities, and how people expressed themselves after a terrible period in history. I wanted those raw gritty emotions. (Really, the story spans both the 1910s and the 1920s.)

- Because the story was so hard-to-follow and exemplified people of this era as a wildly out-of-control mess.. I never got to dive deep into any character. While that chaotic energy is potentially accurate for the decade where opium and cocaine were plentiful, at 50% of the way through this book, I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters. There's this consistent sense of otherness, where the glitter and glamour are layered with a thin veil of smoke and mystery... you never quite know whose tragically vapid story will unravel next.

- I gather that what the author was trying to create was this hazy look at how people survived after a wartime era and the absolute level of debauchery was almost a happy release of the stress, but some of the symbolism was too intense to really create a 'story'. Not to mention somewhat offputting with characters lacking any loyalty to each other, no true love sprouting up anywhere, and relationships based on the incredibly shallow unifier that is money. I would have enjoyed the absolutely disgusting behavior of the 'smart set', had there been anyone redeemable throughout the story? But alas... could NO ONE be happy? Could no one be a good person throughout the book? lol ahh. I just loathe stories like this where basically no one is happy.

FAVORITE QUOTE: (Because the writing is actually good!)
'All of Gatsby's beautiful people were being revealed for the sloppy, irritable, wayward and human creatures they really were.' - I think this quote basically sums up the entire book. Beneath that veneer of wealth, juxtaposed with MidWestern 'mannered' society men, etc.. basically, everyone came out ugly in the end.

Quality of Writing: ⭐⭐⭐.5/5
Storyline: ⭐⭐⭐/5

-- 🌶️/5 - An LGBTQ+ novel with pansexual themes
-- Short read (a little more than 200 pages)
-- Whimsical / fantasy notes throughout weren't really developed enough to be part of the story.. more just thrown in for dramatic effect sometimes.
Profile Image for Althea ☾.
623 reviews1,951 followers
March 1, 2022
“Everything changed then nothing changed. And I was still, frustratingly enough, nothing more than myself.”

I have such mixed feelings about the majority of this book but that ending with Nghi Vo’s writing style… gave me a new perspective on everything that it brought this book up from 2 stars to 3 stars.

The dark, magical, and lyrical writing of The Chosen and the Beautiful sold me so quickly at the start but as the story progressed it was a little disappointing that the story focused more on everything except Jordan, the main character. I feel like the main character’s background, complex personality, and intriguing personal relationships were wasted on a story that didn’t really revolve around her most of the time. She was very much an observer but I have heard that it pays homage to how the original was written. Even then, I feel like even a retelling should be able to stand on it’s own even with readers who have not read it in it's original form. Especially since this is supposedly an Asian Queer retelling, bringing something new and refreshing, I feel like this could have done so much more than it did. Don't even get me started on the fantasy and magic... it barely added anything to the story except made me continue the book in the beginning.

“I hadn’t even reached the bottom of learning what I wanted. And even if he couldn’t give those things to me, maybe I liked that he wanted to try.”

The drama and nuanced socialite society kept me going but the casual cheating at the beginning bothered me a little too much. I get where it’s coming from and I do like how everything tied together in the end but I was just too bothered by how emotional cheating was tackled. It kept me from enjoying the story and it’s sad because I so badly wanted to love this book. It also felt a little weird how majority of the lgbtq+ rep was related to the casual/emotional cheating.

I knew absolutely nothing about The Great Gatsby (i haven’t read or watched it) when I started this but reading the reviews makes me think that I might actually like the original story still. Especially since it intrigues me that the story was from Nick’s perspective, which what the original piece was in, apparently.

“The world was on fire but we could only smell the smoke.”

Medium paced, socialite society, friendship, drama, and about finding yourself. There’s not that much magic, which was a little disappointing but I feel like I would still recommend this to people if you find that it calls out to you. There’s just something about that ending that pulled at my heart more than I thought it would and I wouldn’t want to discourage those that might find this life-changing.

— 3.0 —
content warnings// Abortion, Alcohol use, Car accident (hit and run), Colonialism, Death, Domestic abuse (physical), Emesis, Infidelity, Murder, Racism, Substance abuse

pre-read review

magic and a queer asian-american great gatsby??? WHY WAS I NOT AWARE!!!

@publishers please do not stop with these beautiful covers
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books430 followers
February 6, 2022
“When I looked at famous Jay Gatsby, soul gone and some terrible engine he called love driving him now, I could see that for him, the world was always ending. For him, it was all a wrack and a ruin, and he had no idea why the rest of us weren’t screaming.”

So What’s It About?

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, Asian, adopted, and 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.

What I Thought

A significant number of reviews for this book seem to be largely about how much the reviewer hated The Great Gatsby in high school, which is pretty funny. I happen to be entirely neutral about The Great Gatsby, for what it’s worth. I recognize why it’s an American classic objectively, and I don’t especially love it or hate it beyond that. As for The Chosen and the Beautiful, it is indeed very beautiful...but I can’t help but feel that it could have been so much more.

When I read retellings my question is always “Why did the author choose to tell the story this way?” In this case I think the goal was to write a retelling of a book about the falsity of the American Dream while expanding on the original book’s understanding of what is false and wrong about the U.S. With that in mind it makes a great deal of sense to tell the story from the perspective of a queer immigrant woman of color, but I can’t help but feel that the mere existence of a Jordan with this identity doesn’t go nearly far enough in making that point if it is indeed the point the book is trying to make.

Jordan herself is a pretty interesting character to spend time with - and note that I say “interesting” and not “enjoyable.” As she is in the original story, she is cynical and patronizing and largely indifferent to the world, but in this case I think the justification is that the veneer protects her from being a racialized outsider who is constantly othered and reminded of her difference. At the same time there is part of her that feels differently - take for instance the reflection that “in truth I felt less special in Chinatown, and that made me dislike it.”

There are times when Jordan’s world-weary ways and careless reveling in excess can be extremely tiresome, but I don’t think that’s a weakness of the text at all until it tries to make points about feminism at the same time. Like, it’s not exactly endearing for your protagonist to say “[Nick] called me careless because he didn’t have to 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,” but what is even more annoying is that Jordan goes on to say that she didn’t feel the need to explain herself to Nick because as a man he couldn’t understand that women can’t really be completely careless because they can get raped. I had to reread this section a few times because it felt like such a strange point to make while what Nick was criticizing about Jordan had nothing to do with her behavior around men.

In The Chosen and the Beautiful, Gatsby is depicted as a villain. I didn’t really like this change at first because I couldn’t figure out why it was the case. Because he sold his soul and works for Hell? Because he is Jordan’s competition for Nick’s affection? Given that the magical aspect of the story is so loosely incorporated/explored and Jordan treats Nick with a patronizing kind of tolerance for most of the book neither of these really ring true to me. I think the most satisfying answer that I came up with has to do with Gatsby’s feelings about Daisy - he sees her as the pinnacle of his goals and dreams and in that process he has turned her into an idol to be possessed instead of a person. As someone who cares for Daisy herself, Jordan must abhor this.

I do think that this would work better if Daisy was somehow reinterpreted the same way Gatsby and Jordan are, but her depiction rings fairly true to what I remember of Daisy in the original book - effortlessly charming and delightfully frivolous, flighty and insubstantial and shallow. There’s one scene where Jordan creates a paper figure of Daisy to go to a party when the real Daisy is too distraught to go, and later Daisy bashes it in with a shovel to kill it. I liked this scene because I thought it represented Daisy destroying the hollow performative part of her that everybody expects, but this was really the only scene of that kind in the book. The other complexity is that in this book Jordan loves Daisy which Daisy certainly exploits, and again explains part of why Jordan hates Gatsby so much.

Other reviewers have mixed opinions about the inclusion of magic in this book, with some critics stating that it feels rather shallow and poorly incorporated into the world-building. I’m by no means someone who needs my magic to be laid out in a complex system - quite the opposite - but I’m inclined to agree that while a lot of the imagery is incredibly lovely and captivating, I’m not quite sure what purpose the magic serves in the story. Maybe it’s to be seen as part of the shallow luxury of the American Dream and the class conflicts of the world, but I don’t necessarily know if the way it’s included here really augments the way the original story went about making this point. Jordan’s paper magic is certainly about her heritage that she was prevented from knowing by her adopted family, and which was exploited by rich Americans (represented by Daisy in this case) - but at the end of the story she reclaims it to use as her own and learn more about.

Other readers have mentioned that the writing is absolutely lovely, and it certainly is. Vo has a true talent in that regard, as she does for vivid imagery and lush descriptions. In this case I think she went a little overboard as the endless descriptions of dresses and drinks and parties and sex could definitely have been cut back make room for other things instead.
Profile Image for ale ‧ ₊˚୨୧ ₊˚.
397 reviews1,815 followers
Want to read
June 15, 2021
The Great Gatsby retelling with a queer Asian MC? Count me in. Holy shit. Where do I sign????
Profile Image for Boston.
404 reviews1,846 followers
January 10, 2021
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.

*Thank you to the publisher who sent me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Ellie.
575 reviews2,113 followers
Want to read
September 23, 2020
this cover is f**king stunning, whoever at Tor in charge of all these recent covers is actually doing God's work



Tor is having so many good 2021 releases holy hell
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,180 followers
July 7, 2021
Meh. The best I can say about this is that I liked it more than The Great Gatsby, on which it's loosely based. I might have liked it more if it wasn't soooo much about straight relationships when I was expecting this to be more queer-oriented. Not a bad read but not all that enjoyable for me either.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,555 reviews3,753 followers
April 16, 2021
I do really love the source material for this retelling, so I am happy to report this is a great example where you can love the original and the retelling for different reasons because of their different strengths. Vo's writing is so dreamy and atmospheric, and while I'm not sure I connected emotionally with the book overall as strongly as I wanted to, I did really admire the craftsmanship on display. Come for the gorgeous cover, stay for the nuanced exploration of a queer Asian character in 1920s Long Island.
Profile Image for Philip.
498 reviews672 followers
April 26, 2022
2ish stars.

I'm disappointed and it's hard to explain why. I started out liking the creativity of the premise, the engaging lead character, and Nghi's classical prose, but at some point I became disillusioned.

I go back-and-forth between thinking it was unnecessary to expand and complicate what was originally a slim, simple, straightforward book; and thinking it followed too closely to the original and should have really leaned into the fantasy elements to differentiate itself and justify its existence. The fact that it didn't quite stay in either lane was frustrating and confusing.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,374 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.