The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

“It was no Mercury dime New York moon, but a harvest moon brought all the way from the wheat fields of North Dakota to shine with sweet benevolence down on the chosen and the beautiful.”

Among all of the works to enter the public domain this past year (due to having been published before 1925), one of the most well-known is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a part of the public domain, this classic is now available for authors to use freely in retellings, which is exactly what Nghi Vo does in her latest work, The Chosen and the Beautiful. As someone who has always enjoyed reading the original, my interest was immediately piqued, and I am excited to share more about this title with all of you.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fitzgerald’s original work, The Great Gatsby is set over the course of one summer during the Roaring Twenties on Long Island (New York) and primarily revolves around Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth, and Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful socialite he falls in love with before going off to war. Taking place a few years after their initial meeting, this book picks up with Daisy having married a wealthy and unfaithful husband (Tom Buchanan) and Nick Carraway, Daisy’s distant cousin and narrator of the story, moving to Long Island from Minnesota to work in bonds. Little does either Nick or Daisy know that the former moves next door to the lavish and excessive mansion belonging to Gatsby and that, before long, Nick would play a key role in reuniting Daisy and Gatsby once again.

Another major character in this story is Jordan Baker, a renowned and opulent golfer who is also one of Daisy’s best childhood friends. In this retelling, Vo explores this story from Jordan’s perspective as a queer, Asian socialite who was adopted from Vietnam and brought to the United States at a very young age. Through her eyes, you are privy not only to more of Daisy’s backstory, but to a brand new literary voice experiencing the societal norms of the ’20s at a remove, as Jordan is often “othered” within their shared social circles as Daisy’s charming and exotic friend. In addition to this major change from the original narrative, this retelling also has magical elements incorporated into it, technically making it a science fiction novel set within the glittering excess of the Jazz Age.

All in all, I think this is a very interesting retelling that presents a powerful new literary voice, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Vo’s version of Jordan Baker. While I did find myself becoming lost in the magical components at times, as they seemed a bit random and scattered throughout, I think this was, in part, due to Vo’s diligence in adhering to Fitzgerald’s original account pretty closely. While the transformation of Jordan’s character and her insight were more than enough for a satisfying retelling for me, I think I would have enjoyed the science fiction aspects more if Vo had deviated further from the script and reimagined more of the story, as opposed to just retelling it.

In the end, I would still recommend this novel to both those who have or haven’t read the original, as this new perspective definitely adds to the timeless themes in Fitzgerald’s original, while simultaneously bringing the story up to speed in the 21st century. I also fully intend on reading any future retellings and reimaginings of Fitzgerald’s work, as I am sure there will be many more coming down the pike with this novel in the public domain!

This title is also available in the following formats:

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The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

“We cannot solve our most intractable problems unless we are honest about what they are, unless we are willing to have difficult conversations and accept what facts make plain.”

Upon the groundbreaking milestone of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian American to serve as vice president-elect of the United States, I made it a priority to get my hands on her book The Truths We Hold. In this book, Harris recounts memories of her upbringing, including the monumental role social justice played in her life from a young age; chronicles her career path from prosecutor, to district attorney, to attorney general, to U.S. senator, to vice president-elect; and asserts truths behind key issues affecting our world today.

Throughout the text, Harris stresses how she is motivated by the opportunity to give those without voices fair and just representation in government and, thereby, in the laws and policies governing their everyday lives. Upon finishing, I was inspired by the ways in which Harris has used her various positions of power to be a voice for the people she represented, despite the countless frustrations and setbacks she faced. No matter who may have doubted her or her ideas, she did what she knew needed to be done to serve and truly represent those counting on her.

I also appreciated the humanistic lens applied to this text. Rather than just write about her views on issues on a broad and general scale, Harris illustrated the human beings who she was able to help by listening to their stories and directly responding to their needs. From representing sexual assault victims, to creating initiatives aimed at reforming the criminal justice system, to helping pass legislation at the federal level to ensure the legality and legitimacy of same-sex marriage in the state of California, Harris’ experience and work has not only served as models for other states, but has also demonstrated her true passion for helping those who need help with the power she possesses. Additionally, she has blazed a path for up-and-coming women of all backgrounds and will undoubtedly inspire countless women to participate in U.S. government and politics.

At its conclusion, Harris takes the time to consider some of the truths she herself has learned from her experience in government over the years and one of the most powerful of these is this: “You may be the first. Don’t be the last.” Reading this immediately gave me goose bumps, as she used those very words in her address upon becoming vice president-elect with respect to her becoming the first woman to hold this office. She is truly an inspirational figure and this book was definitely one of the most interesting and motivational titles I have read this year.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

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