The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo – The Curious SFF Reader


The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo – The Curious SFF Reader

Genre : Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Retelling

Publisher : Tor.Com

Length : 260 pages

Format : Ebook

Rating : 5 stars

Publication Date: June 1st 2021


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.


The Chosen and the Beautiful is Nghi Vo’s fantastical and queer take on The Great Gatsby. Like many, I read and studied The Great Gatsby in high school. I didn’t have many memories of this book except that I remember it following the tragic story of very rich white people that would all fare better if they stopped sleeping around. However, of the few American classics I read, I remember enjoying how dramatic it was and I was excited to read Vo’s retelling since she’s quickly becoming a favorite author of mine.

As expected, Vo didn’t disappoint and I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Chosen and the Beautiful. I haven’t read many retellings but it takes a skilled writer to successfully adapt or retell a famous classic. By changing the perspective, adding magic and queerness to this beloved story, Vo managed to modernize it by highlighting everything that was forgotten in the original story: people of color, queerness and poverty.

By centering the story on contemporary issues, Vo showed how shallow the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy is. Their romance is centered around the appearance of success rather than on actual connection between two people. Gatsby is first smitten with Daisy because she’s from a very rich family and unreachable from the start. Daisy like Gatsby once he no longer is Jay Gatsby but a rich socialite hosting fabulous parties for the world to attend. While those elements were definitely present in the first book, they were highlighted because the story was told with the sarcastic voice of Jordan Baker, the real heroine of the story.

Jordan Baker is a socialite living a glamourous life in 1920’s New York. She’s young, she’s rich, she’s beautiful and she spends her nights at Gatsby’s parties drinking demonic liqueurs and having fun. However, behind the glitz and the glam of the Roaring Twenties, Jordan lives with the fact that she’s an exotic attraction. Queer and adopted from Vietnam when she was a little girl, Jordan has to live with the fact that she’ll never perfectly belong to the world she grew up in.

She’s a spectator in the play of Gatsby and Daisy, a play with a tragic ending that feels inevitable from the start. Jordan is an outsider and can clearly see when things are turning sour but she’s unable to stop the mess from happening nor does she completely want to prevent it, seeing it as yet another entertainment in her endless summer in New York.

However, she can’t truly escape the real world. She’s Asian and when the Immigration Act is voted, she must confront things she ignored her entire life: her own origins and how she found herself adopted in the Baker family in the first place.

 The Chosen and the Beautiful is a wonderfully crafted character study allowing us to understand why the glamour of Gatsby – whether magical or built with money – is darker and sinister than it is originally presented. I love how the magic was subtly used to highlight the artificial bubble rich people were living in at the time (and very much still currently are). I read some reviews mentioning that they wish the magic had taken a bigger part of the story but I couldn’t disagree more. I thought everything was balanced perfectly.

If you enjoyed The Great Gatsby, I would definitely recommend Vo’s queer and magical version. If you didn’t enjoy The Great Gatsby in the first place, I would recommend this book even more, as it centers around different issues and, in my opinion, much more interesting characters.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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