Book Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Good morning! I’ve been waiting a while to post this because I wasn’t sure I could do this book justice. It’s very clear that Nghi Vo puts so much time and effort into making sure this book was done right. I was very surprised at how wonderfully she was able to pull this off. This reimagining is what Gatsby should have been all along. It was just delightful. Please enjoy my review!

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Title: The Chosen and the Beautiful
Author: Nghi Vo
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Historical

A brilliant reimagining of The Great Gatsby given new life by a powerful new perspective

At a glance: Jordan Baker may be a part of high society in 1920’s NYC, but being a queer, Asian adoptee keeps her on the outskirts of social circles. But having a papercutting magic that allows her to see the spark in paper grow into a flame can change her life if she learns how to use it…

  • 💫 Atmospheric
  • 📖 Couldn’t Put It Down
  • ✂️ Retelling
  • 🧭 Immigrant Experience

Read this if… you love retellings, if you never found yourself in The Great Gatsby, if you wish The Great Gatsby had a little more magic.

Diversity Representation: Queer Asian MC, Asian author

Content Warnings: Racism (internal & external), misogyny, xenophobia, car accident, death, infidelity

Book Review

Stunning, dazzling, glamorous, imaginative, smart, insightful, magical

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a book that I’ve been excited about since the moment I heard about it. A queer, Asian reimagining of The Great Gatsby sounds incredibly ambitious and I was so interested to see what Nghi Vo would do with it. While reading it was immediately clear that there is so much thought in every detail. The way that Vo redirects our attention to certain phrases or ideas that were less critical in the original because of the time period and the way that she mimics the style is nothing short of stunning.

Jordan Baker grew up with the wealthy and glamorous in NYC in the socialite circles of the 1920s. She has it all: money, education, invitations to the most lavish parties of the time. But she is also a queer, Asian, adoptee, being treated as exotic and doesn’t have the same doors open to her as her peers. However, she wields something that no one else has, a papercutting magic that allows her to feel the spark in paper grow into a flame.

To review the chosen and the beautiful you must discuss The Great Gatsby. To me, The Great Gatsby is one of those classics (whatever that means) that, when we read it in high school, everyone seemed to be obsessed with it, except for me. The world was sweeping, glamorous, beautiful, exciting, but it just wasn’t written for me. I could never see myself in the pages in the way my classmates dreamed that would one day be them, swept up in the glamor and high society that can be New York City. The world just has never shown me that would be possible for me.

The Chosen and the Beautiful swept me off my feet and turned a story that had never been for me into something that could be ours. Nghi Vo takes a book that has been repeatedly given to us and molds it into something different and gives it back into the space. She beautifully and powerfully takes her own space by reimagining Gatsby, and by doing so she also gives that space back to us: the people who never saw themselves in the pages. The Chosen and the Beautiful is a wildly ambitious retelling of The Great Gatsby that surprised me and delighted me the entire time. It finally gave me an understanding of the allure that The Great Gatsby has on so many people by giving it to me in a way that made me feel at home.

Revisiting The Great Gatsby seems like a monumental feat because of the pedestal that we often put it on, but what is so interesting about the original is how much is said in the unsaid. If it were published today, it would be considered a novella! Taking the opportunity to grasp onto those unsaid moments, Nghi Vo can flesh out the story from another perspective (and adding a fantasy element!) without changing too much. This new perspective and this new modern lens allow us to examine Gatsby in a whole new way. It allows us to bring out attention to see how dangerous Daisy is in her white feminism. It allows us to feel what it means when a character “goes to the West Indies” even though to the characters (and to readers at the time of the release) that is unimportant. It allows us to see the desperation that so many immigrants feel to want to fit in with white supremacy but aren’t able to. It even allows us to see why we might start to reject the desire to fit in with white supremacy.

Summing it all up

The Chosen and the Beautiful is an incredible reimagining and reexamining of The Great Gatsby. It’s done so well and so full of thought and care. Nghi Vo knows and loves the story so much but has created a brand new way for us all to look at it. Absolutely stunning.

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Book Club Questions:
The Chosen and the Beautiful

  • Considering this is a retelling where we throw in an Asian character into the work of a white author, what do we gain by using the colonizer’s voice to tell the story of the colonized? Is it liberating? How is this retelling used as reclaiming and decolonization?
  • Comparing this to The Great Gatsby, what are some moments that Nghi Vo made sure to draw your attention to that F. Scott Fitzgerald did not care to? What is the significance of making sure to pay attention to these moments? For example, how Gatsby and Cody went to the West Indies.
  • How did making Jordan Baker Asian give us the nuanced descriptions of experience of Asian American immigrants?
  • What is the significance of Jordan’s mom adopting her from Vietnam to raise her in America? How does Jordan’s transracial adoption affect her life throughout the book? How did you feel about the way that Jordan was adopted?

About the Author

Nghi Vo is the author of the acclaimed novellas When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and The Empress of Salt and Fortune, a Hugo, Locus, and Ignyte Award finalist and the winner of Reddit’s Stabby and IAFA’s Crawford Award. 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.

Let’s chat!

Have you read this book yet?
Are you a fan of The Great Gatsby?
What was the last retelling you read?

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Want More Diverse Book Recommendations?

Check out the rest of my blog! I’m dedicated to sharing books with you that include diversity, so feel comfortable that any books on Bookish Brews will include some diversity.

If you liked this review or thought you might like this book, check out some of my other reviews for books with magical retellings of other stories:

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Definitely added to my TBR: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

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