Now, I have admit that I was skeptical at first. I don't think that I'm an English snob--I love young adult novels and firmly believe in introducing students to books they will actually enjoy. If I'm being completely honest, I have to confess that I don't even like a lot of the so-called "classics." But Gatsby--that's different. I love and adore Gatsby. So the idea of teaching a YA novel about high school football players and keg parties in place of this cornerstone of American literature seemed pretty ludicrous to me.
But in spite of my misgivings, I decided to give Jake a try. I teach a lab class for students who are weaker in English, so I decided to read Jake with them in order to complement the Gatsby they were reading in their regular English classes. As I read, the English nerd in me rejoiced over the clever ties to Gatsby. And my students--kids who hate reading--actually got excited about Jake. I have one girl who was so curious about what would happen next that she read several chapters ahead--and this from a girl who generally doesn't do homework. And I have another student, a boy who is a native Spanish-speaker who somewhat struggles with reading in English, who tells me daily that he really loves this book. So I'm sold. Jake, Reinvented is good stuff. Maybe not a replacement for Gatsby, but definitely worth a read in its own right.
The story centers around high school student Jake Garrett. He's the new kid in town. he shows up at the cleverly-named Fitzgerald High and takes the place by storm. He's well-dressed, smooth, and confident--and he throws amazing parties every Friday night. Every kid in school is begging for an invitation.
The story is narrated by Rick Paradis, who lives in the same neighborhood as his classmate Jake. Rick is the only one who takes the time to get to know Jake on a more personal level, and thus eventually discovers some of his secrets. It seems that Jake used to know the gorgeous Didi Ray, who is now dating star quarterback Todd Buckley. Todd is cheating on Didi with cheerleader Melissa Fantino, who is dating big, strong, stupid lineman Nelson Jaworski. Jake is determined to win Didi for himself, no matter what the cost.
Sound confusing? For Gatsby fans, you can tie these characters back to Jay Gatsby, Nick Carroway, Daisy Fay, Tom Buchanan, Myrtle, and George Wilson, it all becomes a little more clear. But Jake, Reinvented can also stand on its own. Rick has a history of his own with best friend/love interest Jennifer Belanger, and their storyline here is far more interesting that the Nick/Jordan relationship in Gatsby. And while Gatsby is rich with the history of the 1920s, Jake meets high school students right where they are. Gatsby's treatment of new vs. old money may be lost on modern students, but Jake's navigation of the high school caste system rings true to them.
Jake, Reinvented is a quick and enjoyable read. I'd recommend it to fans of young adult literature, or to anyone who needs an assist in translating the ideas of Gatsby to the modern world. I still don't see it as a substitute for Gatsby, but as a supplement or a stand-alone, it's a good read.