A review by thewordsdevourer
Self-Made Boys by Anna-Marie McLemore

emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes


*Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC

I'll put it simply: Self-Made Boys is the best retelling I've ever read. Not only does the book retain the key plot points and themes of the original, it also achieves a rare feat of improving upon a modern classic, where even more complexity and layers are added to the themes and characters.

To be honest, just the premise itself seems to good to be true - a canon Nick & Gatsby where both are trans and gay in a book made gayer and more diverse! - yet the novel still exceeds my expectations. The themes and characters are tackled with aplomb; what I think I know about Fitzgerald's original, McLemore plumbs the depths even further, adding even more nuance and characterization to their main cast in a way that amazingly connects to their own version. There were several times I had to pause upon stumbling upon such an instance, awed at how they shed a completely new light or perspective on a character and/or their actions. It's a marvel, really.

My favorite thing about this book, however, is the themes and how they're explored. There are the original themes further scrutinized through Nicólas' non-white and non-cis lens, in addition to new ones examined like race, gender, queerness. It's a lot, yet McLemore somehow succeeds in their balancing act, exploring all the themes inidividually while also bringing intersectionality into play. This also makes the characters more layered, with the most prominent example perhaps being Daisy who's deliciously complex, at once infuriating yet understandable.

I only wish there were more scenes of Nicólas and Gatsby after they get together, even just them lounging in the pool and talking or something; currently the focus is turned immediately to Daisy afterwards and it feels a little abrupt. The explanation for Gatsby's endless pursuit of Daisy personally feels a little forced as well, reading mildly like a cop-out. I just don't understand why he's in such a hurry for a lavender marriage, though maybe that's also due in part to Daisy's situation.

In sum, however, this is not merely a great retelling of a well-known classic but also a smartly plotted, layered and complex book that stands on its own, examining the American dream through the POVs of those not traditionally seen or heard in mainstream society.

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