How are you, traveler? I hope you’re doing well.
It’s my birthday today! 🎂 I’m turning eighteen, which is crazy! To celebrate this, I’d like to discuss one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 (and incidentally one of my new all-time favorites) — The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo, the author of a fantasy novella series I love, The Singing Hills Cycle.
From the cover, premise, and style, I was absolutely ready to dive right in. And dive in, I did!
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.
Rep: queer, Vietnamese author and protagonist; queer and BIPOC characters; Asian characters
Content Warnings: racism, fetishization, and xenophobia; homophobia; domestic abuse; sexual intercourse and interactions; pregnancy and abortion; death; substance use
tl;dr: Do I recommend this book?
MY RATING: ★★★★★
“Having gay time now?” I asked, breaking the silence with a smile.
Oh, Jordan. Dearest, darling Jordan Baker — my spirit, my star, my soul. Yes. Yes, amen, I am.
This book was absolutely marvelous — Nghi Vo proves once again why her writing is absolutely up my alley.
I found myself positively shook by the novel’s stunning, connected language. Phrases tumbled into phrases in a dance, like women in their flapper dresses and men in pinstripe suits twirling around each other. Immersed in the gentle details of magic and charms, sumptuous descriptions of characters’ appearances and attire (which I, for one, always adore), and loving portraits of each primary character, I gripped my e-reader with a beguiled energy.
This book reminded me how breathtaking words could be.
Here are a few lines that stuck to me like rocks to soil:
A description of a tenor singing during an infamous Gatsby party:
“…his lips shaped [themselves] into sinuous twists of golden light…”
- I’ve never read a more apt detailing of musical ability.
- It’s as though I can hear the tenor crooning; feel the way his coloratura sifts through the air.
“You ought not to say such things to me,” I said gravely. “I might ask you for the moon, and what would you do, then?”
“Give it to you, of course.”
- An exchange between our protagonist and a close companion. (Can you guess who? 😉)
- I just thought this was really cute. 😂
- This is the sort of quote you’ll find printed onto a hardbound journal in a stationery shop by the coasts.
“The world was on fire, but we could only smell the smoke.”
- I’m going absolutely mental. This is a fun line — the type that people will write down to remember.
Me and Gatsby
I’m a Gatsby stan. What can I say? The film is grand and guilty, and the novel is a good snack to munch on before class. My interest in the Roaring 20’s aesthetic (and all the grime that comes with) impacted my experience reading The Chosen and the Beautiful. Gatsby’s messages were easily muzzled by time (and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own mixed emotions towards the opulent).
Vo’s debut, however, is everything that its source material could not achieve. To name three examples:
- These characters, dear traveler. What bisexual disasters!
- The Chosen and the Beautiful delivers on all the inherent queerness in Gatsby. Under this context, Jordan, Daisy, Nick, and the gang carry the spirit of their counterparts in Fitzgerald’s original work with more complexity and intrigue.
- The Chosen and the Beautiful brings magic to a mundane world.
- I loved how casual presence of enchantments and sorcery in this version of a 1920’s New York.
- This is urban fantasy as it should be: natural, bold, and mysterious.
- And the fact that Jordan Baker was a Vietnamese adoptee gave the story such an incredible depth.
- The inclusion of Asian-Americans and people of color in Eastern America reflects on the diversity of the nation that was already present at the time.
This novel knew exactly what it was, and stuck the landing with deadly precision.
The best retelling give old stories newer context, and deliver on social commentary that their literary ancestors did not quite reach. Vo’s opus did all this and more.
The Great Gatsby exists so that The Chosen and the Beautiful could be written. Literature exists so that Nghi Vo can bend it.
A Masterwork of a Novel
This novel burns inside my mind.
Perhaps it is hyperbole to say that this book shocked me to my very spirit — whittled me down until my bones were made of paper — displaced me just as seashells are displaced by the ocean — filled me with an awe so dark and dutiful that it was as though all the lights in the deep city of New York flickered off, exposing all the spinning stars.
But there’s truth in hyperbole. There’s truth in the expanded forms of dishonesty.
Be right back. I think I am going to cry about this book for the fifth time.
(Thank you to Netgalley and Tor for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!)
Thank you for reading my review! I hope you check out this book when it is released in June 2021; I hope you love it as much as I did. 🧡🏙
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: a list of book recommendations!
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖