I received an advance listening copy from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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.
To be released: September 6th, 2022
I read The Great Gatsby in high school like a lot of other people and at the end of the unit, I had to write an essay about it. A majority of the students in my class wrote about its commentary on the American Dream or disillusionment in the 1920s. I, apparently immune to cringe, write my whole essay and gave a whole presentation on how gay Nick and Gatsby were for each other. The teacher wrote that he disagreed with how close Jay and Gatsby were together, but praised the proof I provided. I got a 90.
This long introduction is to say that when I heard Anna-Marie McLemore was writing a queer retelling of one of the few required reading materials I didn’t hate, I had to get my hands on it.
Self-Made Boys follows Nicolás Caraveo, a trans Mexican-American teen, who travels to NYC for a job and to visit his cousin, Daisy, who he owes a lot to. When he arrives, he’s surprised to see Daisy is now passing as white and is caught up in rumor with Tom and a missing pearl necklace. Nick soon meets his neighbor, the mysterious Gatsby who has been pining over Daisy. Nick soon agrees to help Gatsby and learns more about the people around him, including the fact that Jay is also trans.
As mentioned in the summary, Nick and Daisy are Mexican-American, Nick and Gatsby are trans, and just about the rest of the cast are queer in some way. The book also delves a lot into how queer and people of color survived in the 1920s and the struggles they faced trying to achieve the American Dream.
This book is really focused on Nick and Daisy’s relationship, as Nick tries to protect his cousin and help nudge her in what he thinks is the best path for her. Even when she’s not on page, the book clearly focuses on their relationship, which I loved the exploration of.
That’s not to say Gatsby is neglected, because we get plenty of scenes with him and Nick. His characterization just goes through one of the more dramatic remixes, as this Gatsby is less of a tragic, pitiful figure. McLemore instead focuses more of Jay’s optimism and that of being a “self-made boy.”
The discussion of differences leads well into where the book sort of disappointed me. It goes back to my silly little introduction where I read the original text in the context of the impossibility of the American Dream and the disillusionment with America that soldiers felt on arriving back from WWI. I went in expecting something along those lines, but McLemore doesn’t make that their thesis statement. They go more in the direction of “queer people and people of color often have to make their own paths, but they can still find happiness,” which, when I think about it in the context of a young adult book, I’m more amenable to. Really, it’s a case of expectations I put on it for no particular reason (it’s not like I heard advertisements regarding this as something that pulls apart the American Dream.)
Even though this isn’t Anna-Marie McLemore’s typical magical realism novel, their writing still shines through. Flowers are intricately described in both scent and shape and love is achingly touched upon. Several times, I wished I wasn’t reading this via audio only so I could’ve highlighted certain passages. That being said, the narration was so well done! This is my first Avi Roque audiobook and it certainly won’t be my last! Their narration was interspersed with letters read by Kyla Garcia.
I loved this book overall and rated it 4 stars! This is everything I expected from a retelling by Anna-Marie McLemore and more! If you read The Great Gatsby and thought there was a little something more to Nick and Jay than met the eye, I highly recommend this.