Hello friends! Today I’m coming at you with a review of one of my favorite books of the year, “Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix” by Anna-Marie McLemore–which is out now!
A digital ARC of “Self-Made Boys” was provided to me by Fierce Reads/Feiwel Friends via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Read on to check out the official synopsis of the book, my review, and a bit about the author!
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.
It’s difficult to begin this review with anything other than: holy crap, that was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
I first read “The Great Gatsby” when I was 15, a sophomore in high school, and I loved it immediately. I wizzed through it in a day when my English teacher had meant for us to take it a chapter at a time. I couldn’t help but be pulled in first by the surface level mystery, romance, and glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age, but also by the criticisms of The American Dream, and Fitzgerald’s take on class, wealth, race, and gender.
When I read what “Self-Made Boys” was about, I was immediately excited. The things that Anna-Marie McLemore “remixed” from the original story are, to me, so seamless and a testament as to why “The Great Gatsby” is beloved by so many different people to this day–it’s simple to find yourself or something you relate to amongst its pages. With “Self-Made Boys,” it’s now even more of a perfect story to me and I truly can’t decide which one I love more.
Nicolás Caraveo is our Nick Carraway. He is a 17-year-old Mexican-American transgender boy from Minnesota. I loved Nicolás, as I knew I would because I loved Nick. He’s our narrator and plays a much bigger role in this remix which I was so happy to see. Jay Gatsby is Nicolás’ neighbor in West Egg, and he is also a transgender boy. Anna-Marie McLemore kept the same sort of vibe of original Gatsby, but elevated him and gave us a bit of a deeper look into what it might have been like to explore gender identity in the 1920s through both him and Nicolás.
Something they wrote in their Author’s Note, which I really appreciated, was, “Whenever possible, I stayed true to likely events, even when they made me cringe … But I’ve also attempted to code and label race, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a way meant to fall between historical realism and contemporary consciousness. Sometimes I made decisions meant to acknowledge and question racism, queerphobia, and transphobia without putting the brutal slurs of the 1920s on the page.”
I think Anna-Marie McLemore did a phenomenal job in their approach to coding and labeling to fall in that in between so it is as historically accurate as possible, while also not being “hidden” from the contemporary reader. I was worried going into a book set in the 1920s starring characters with many different identities not historically accepted, that it might be tough to read. I trusted the author, but I was apprehensive. However, there wasn’t any need for apprehension because what I found was a thoughtful, gentle, and well-educated approach to race, sexual orientation, and gender identity during that time period.
Something I loved overall that was remixed was the race of certain characters. I love that Nick and Daisy (and some other characters that I won’t spoil for you) were Mexican-American. Being Latina myself, it has always felt a little odd to so fiercely love “The Great Gatsby,” not just as a woman, but as a brown person. I could see a few aspects of myself and my family in the original story, mostly tied to the criticisms of The American Dream, but no one looked like me. So to see these characters, now brown and with similar backgrounds to myself, was healing.
Anna-Marie McLemore still managed to find ways to make Daisy and Gatsby frustrate me, of course, but by the end, even I found myself a little in love with the both of them. Not to mention, the journey they take is definitely a different journey than we originally saw, so the same frustrations are absolutely not there.
There is so much I want to say about this book, I feel like it might burst out of me, but I truly mean it when I say that this is a story you need to read for yourself, especially if you loved “The Great Gatsby.” Anna-Marie McLemore does the original story so much justice while also making it completely their own and, dare I say, even making it better.
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
About The Author
Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) writes magical realism and fairy tales that are as queer, Latine, and nonbinary as they are. Their books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and was the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; MISS METEOR, co-authored with Tehlor Kay Mejia; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; THE MIRROR SEASON, which was also longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; the recently released LAKELORE and SELF-MADE BOYS: A GREAT GATSBY REMIX (coming September 6, 2022).