Book Review

Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix

Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix

  • Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: September 6, 2022
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Series: Remixed Classics #5

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for providing me with an ARC of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: racism, homophobia, transphobia

Stonewall Honor recipient and two-time National Book Award Longlist selectee Anna-Marie McLemore weaves an intoxicating tale of glamor and heartbreak in Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix, part of the Remixed Classics series.

New York City, 1922. Nicolás Caraveo, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Minnesota, 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 Latina 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 for the benefit of impressing 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.

I vaguely remember having to read The Great Gatsby in high school, and being incredibly bored by it. Turns out, it was lacking some flavor. And Anna-Marie McLemore took on the challenge, and successfully turned this blah story into one that I couldn’t stop reading. Shout out to narrators Avi Roque and Kyla Garcia for bringing this story into stunning life, and voicing the characters of Nick and Daisy even more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.

The story stays relatively true to the original (at least as far as I can remember), although there was diversity seamlessly woven into it, and it felt like that was what the story was missing all along. I think one of the most impressive aspects was that McLemore managed to convey all the emotional and social nuance associated with being queer, trans, and a person of color, while staying true to the historical aspects of the 1920s. 

Nick is a trans boy of Mexican descent, visiting his cousin Daisy, who is currently passing as white. He speaks a lot about his own feelings about this, and how brown people who look like him (and how Daisy used to look) are treated in the wealthy neighborhood that he’s now living in. More than a few times, he’s mistaken for the help, with people handing him their golf clubs or dishes, and even outright told something like, “well, you’re not like them.” He faces racial slurs, which weren’t said on the page, thankfully, because I was already outraged on his behalf. One of the biggest surprises that he faces is how Daisy introduces him to her fiancé Tom, as the son of her housekeeper, rather than her cousin:

“That glance told me that if people like us wanted to make something of ourselves in a world ruled by men as pale as their own dinner plates, we had to lie. Daisy would help me make my way in New York. Her price would be the two of us erasing ourselves from each others blood.”

The concept of “passing” is also discussed. Daisy is currently passing, and living her life as a white woman, in order to be accepted in high society. But hiding your ethnicity isn’t an easy thing. Ethnicity isn’t just what you look like—it encompasses so much of our identity, and hiding that means turning away from our family, our history, our culture, our language, traditional foods, language, beliefs, and so much more. Passing involves having difficult discussions, and it seems like Daisy is taking the easy way out, as mentioned by someone else in a similar situation:

“‘The problem is that she hasn’t truly reckoned with it, what it means to live as she’s living. She talks to her family, your family, as though nothing has happened. As though life is just as it was. I couldn’t do that. I had the conversations, hard as they were, I had them. We had them. But she hasn’t done that with her family. I doubt she’s truly even done that with you.’”

Under the surface, there’s another level of diversity that can’t be seen as easily, and that’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Nick is transgender, and so is Jay. He comes across women who are living their lives as openly gay for the first time, and is welcomed into this new aspect of society that he never even realized existed, and is exposed to different kinds of people than he ever met in rural Wisconsin. I loved that both Nick and Jay’s families were so supportive of their transitions, and the fact that there was a Jewish lesbian incorporated into the story as well, and how she included her own cultural traditions into her daily life, which were portrayed beautifully and authentically. 

I swear, if stories like this were included in the curriculum when I was in school (or if they even existed), I would have enjoyed high school English class a lot more. The story kept me hooked from start to finish, and the characters were engaging, well-rounded, and realistic. I loved every moment of this story, from the start to the stunning climax, and even though I knew the bones of the original story, this remix was masterfully rendered in a fresh and wonderful manner that has the ability to hook a whole new generation of readers in a way that the original never could. 

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