Book Title: Self-Made Boys
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Release Date: September 6, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling, LGTBQ+
My rating: 5/5 Stars
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.
As soon as I saw the cover for Self-Made Boys, I knew I had to read it. Then, when I heard it was a queer Great Gatsby reimagining, I was so excited! Before I get into the review though, in full transparency, I’ve never actually read the Great Gatsby. I’ve definitely heard a lot about it, but since it wasn’t required reading for me in high school, I never got around to picking it up. So, for all of you wondering if you need to read the Great Gatsby before this one, I’m happy to report that you don’t! I had zero issues following along.
I did, however, go to SparkNotes about halfway through just to compare the two out of curiosity, and I was so impressed with how Anna-Marie McLemore was able to faithfully retell the tale, while also adding their own unique twists and spins to it. The Great Gatsby was clearly the source material, but Self-Made Boys can 100% stand on its own.
If you’re wondering whether or not I liked it…I LOVED IT. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, but once I started this one, I physically could not stop except to eat and sleep. I read it in two sittings and completely devoured it.
It was so refreshing and just so wonderful to see a historical novel (and a retelling of a classic at that), redone with a queer lens. I’ve read a few queer historical fiction books, but they usually don’t end happily because of the time they’re set in. This book did take a couple of liberties, as the author explains in their author note, just so that the characters could fully be who they are, and I loved that. I want to see more of this!!
The cast of characters were incredibly compelling and interesting. I especially loved following Nick’s journey. He was so loveably oblivious about everyday life, while simultaneously an absolute genius in other aspects. Though to be fair, I can’t say I’d have reacted any differently than he did if I’d been in his shoes. I don’t pick up context well and everyone thought they weren’t being subtle, but they definitely were!
As for the other characters, at first glance, Jay was an enigma, one Nick desperately wanted to solve. His development was subtle but loud, which I think is a great way to describe Jay. On the outside, he appears so mysterious and confident in his life and parties, but on the inside, he’s just like the rest of us, looking for someone he can be himself around and confide in.
Daisy was particularly interesting because this story would not exist without her, and she added so much to the plot, but I also wanted to strangle her at times! She’s definitely one of those characters you love to hate. She does do a lot of growing throughout the story though, and I thought it was great to see that journey.
Finally, I loved Jordan’s character, and I adored the twist revealed at the end (which I won’t get into because of spoilers, but I squealed!! I also called it, which always makes me even more excited). Her friendship with Nick was my favorite of the book. I also loved her attitude!
As for Nick and Jay’s relationship, it can best be described as a slow burn, and I really do love a good slow burn. The two immediately connected, but their bond gradually grew and developed as the book went on. All of their moments together were so sweet and filled with chemistry. From the very first moment they met, I was rooting for them and their relationship. It also made me so happy to see two trans boys finding each in this particular time period. I’ve seen queer relationships in historical fiction before, but I believe this is my first time reading about trans characters in a historical setting. Seeing this perspective is so important. I hope schools will one day require this one after completing their study of the Great Gatsby. So much can be learned from Self-Made Boys, and wow, did it pull on my heartstrings.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the writing style! It was so lyrical, each sentence flowing effortlessly from one to the other. Sometimes writing like this can border on purple prose (which I cannot stand), but this was the perfect mix of expressive writing without going overboard.
There is honestly so much I could still say about this book. I will be so surprised if this doesn’t make it into my top ten favorite reads by the end of the year. It was such a beautiful, heartbreaking, yet uplifting story of diverse characters trying to find their place in the world, while also fitting into what society demands. I cannot recommend Self-Made Boys enough, and I hope you all read it!
Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
Check out my last blog post: The Drowned Woods (Tour Post/Review)