Title: Self-Made Boys
Series: Remixed Classics: Book Five
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 336 Pages
Category: YA/Teen Fiction, Transgender Fiction
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: The ultimate power in reimagining a story is the power to reimagine its ending. Self-Made Boys gets the end it not only needs but deserves.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: New York City, 1922.
Nicolás Caraveo, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Wisconsin, has no interest in the city’s glamor. Going to New York is all about establishing himself as a young professional, which could set up his future—and his life as a man—and benefit his family.
Nick rents a small house in West Egg from his 18-year-old cousin, Daisy Fabrega, who lives in fashionable East Egg near her wealthy fiancé, Tom—and Nick is shocked to find that his cousin now goes by Daisy Fay, has erased all signs of her Latine heritage, and now passes seamlessly as white.
Nick’s neighbor in West Egg is a mysterious young man named Jay Gatsby, whose castle-like mansion is the stage for parties so extravagant that they both dazzle and terrify Nick. At one of these parties, Nick learns that the spectacle is all meant to impress a girl from Jay’s past—Daisy. And he learns something else: Jay is also transgender.
As Nick is pulled deeper into the glittery culture of decadence, he spends more time with Jay, aiming to help his new friend reconnect with his lost love. But Nick’s feelings grow more complicated when he finds himself falling hard for Jay’s openness, idealism, and unfounded faith in the American Dream.
Review: “Loving someone is worth making a ridiculous spectacle of your own heart.”
Reimagining an American classic novel is a daunting undertaking, I’m sure. As far as I’m concerned, Anna-Marie McLemore not only improved upon the The Great Gatsby but made it their own, achieving that feat with lush prose, flawless imagery inspired by the source material, and a diverse cast who tell a story of living one’s truth in a world of illusion and a time when “old money” bought respectability—or at least the pretense of it—while the nouveau riche invited scrutiny. If not outright scorn.
Nicolás Caraveo has been persuaded by his cousin Daisy Fay (née Daisy Fabrega-Caraveo) to leave his small town in Wisconsin and follow her to New York where she has, with no small amount of intent, remade herself into a society darling. She’s convinced Nick will find his own success there, certainly more opportunity. The question is what he might have to give up of himself to get it . . . if he chooses that path.
Daisy’s price was letting go of her family and heritage and creating a backstory for herself from thin air. She is nothing if not opportunistic, though it becomes clearer as the story progresses that her transformation was at least partly bred by an overwhelming desire to be accepted in wealthy white society. She is white-passing now, and has caught Tom Buchanan’s eye, but she is not Daisy Buchanan, not yet. That is a work in progress, and achieving that goal seems to be her only reason for existing in the story, until McLemore gives clearer definition to both Daisy’s character and the way she is influencing everything and everyone around her. Including the mysterious, wealthy hedonist, Jay Gatsby
Nicolás is frequently mistaken for “the help” and treated, then dismissed, accordingly. He has even been introduced by Daisy as the son of her family’s maid. Nick is a reliable narrator, letting readers into his life so we know every aspect of him. And as Nick begins to observe Jay Gatsby through various lenses—a stranger, then friend, and then something more—it is clear that Jay is enigmatic and magnetic and someone Nick wishes to know intimately.
The ultimate power in reimagining a story is the power to reimagine its ending. Self-Made Boys gets the end it not only needs but deserves. It’s a story about pulling back the curtain and seeing things as they are rather than as they appear. It’s a story about living one’s own truth to the fullest, especially in a time when those truths are not welcomed.
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