Book Reviews

Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

This review is painful to write. It’s one where you are looking forward to a book so much and then when you read it, you’re just so heartbroken. Maybe this is a case of my expectations, but The Chosen and the Beautiful broke my heart in so many ways. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.

Summary

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.

Review

(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: racism

The Chosen and the Beautiful broke my heart because I wanted so much more from it. I have loved some of Vo’s other novellas and so I was so excited for this queer Asian retelling of The Great Gatsby – which was a book I really did not enjoy ever since my first reading of it. But what I found instead was a book that seemed not to interrogate with the original material enough. Taking a side character perspective of The Great Gatsby I was expecting more subversion and a new lens to the classic. However, I instead felt that the basic story of The Chosen and the Beautiful sticks pretty closely to the original – even though it’s been a while since I read it.

And for the new perspective of Jordan to be so different from the original, maybe that was my own fault for expecting it to interrogate the classic. But, I haven’t read it in a while, so I tried to move past that. As a transracial adoptee I was even more excited for The Chosen and the Beautiful. And it’s another way this book broke my heart. While I understand that Jordan’s identity revolves mostly around being treated as ‘exotic’ by her peers, I felt that there were some opportunities for Jodan to examine her feelings which were not discussed.

Overall,

Because of these moments, which I felt like were shallowly developed in relation to her adoption, I was so disappointed. The Chosen and the Beautiful is largely an example of my hopes being dashed across the rocks of the sound. Maybe it’s just me, but I saw so many missed opportunities where Jordan could have really dug into her feelings, but she never does. And that brings me to another disappointment. I felt like most of the characters, including Jordan, needed some more depth. I wanted to deeply empathize and connect with Jordan, I expected to, but she missed the mark for me.

The Chosen and the Beautiful was so promising. I enjoyed some of the aspects of the magical system, but even that left me wanting more. And I fely like I was the most intrigued by the story, towards the end when Jordan’s story took on more of its own life. While some of the elements were interesting, like seeing The Great Gatsby from the outskirts, almost like we are actually there in their orbit, I was largely just disappointed. It breaks my heart to write this review and to have been so saddened.

(Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. For more information you can look at the Policy page. If you’re uncomfortable with that, know you can look up the book on any of the sites below to avoid the link)

Find The Chosen and the Beautiful on Amazon, Goodreads, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.

Discussion

What do you think of The Great Gatsby?


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