What Makes Jake Great?

My literature class my sophomore year of high school left a lasting impression on me. The class was so dry I vowed that when I became a teacher I would never teach books in this format. One of the books I read for class was the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was a struggle to read this book because I always thought it had a slow moving plot that was drenched in drama. I felt like I couldn’t identify with any of the characters in the story and I did not fully understand the metaphors and similes being used throughout the novel. It didn’t help the situation when my teacher gave our class daily quizzes testing us over the details of the readings. Now that I am older and can appreciate Fitzgerald’s work I catch myself thinking back to that class. There had to be a way I could identify with this novel as a student to better understand it. Enter Gordon Korman’s Jake, Reinvented.

Jake, Reinvented is an edgy take on The Great Gatsby that takes place in a high school setting. Characters from Fitzgerald’s work like Daisy and Jay are replaced by young teenage characters Jake and Didi. Instead of taking place in a socialite area code in New York during the roaring 20’s, Jake, Reinvented takes place in a contemporary high school setting. Although there are some differences in the eras these two stories take place in the core of the story and the over arching themes remain constant. Both have to deal with misguided morals and outer beauty vs. inner ugliness.

What better way to teach these themes to students than to pair it with something tangible; something they can relate to. Most of us can relate to labels in high school and the social hierarchy established by the status quo. We heard the labels before you know, jocks, the band geeks, the nerds, the drama queens and the preps and most of know where these labels fit in the social hierarchy. There are versions of these labels in The Great Gatsby that people in the 20’s may have all to familiar with.

That being said there are some differences. The Great Gatsby is a tougher read because it is chalked full of metaphor, simile and lyric. Some of the comparisons may not make sense to the average high student at first glance. Jake, Reinvented tosses out the complex metaphor and substitutes it with a series of experiences to form something more practical students can relate to. Another huge difference besides the lyrical language is the voice of each. The Great Gatsby uses active voice placing the reader within the novel. He uses words that fit the situation such as lurches and spilled to describe events at a party where alcohol is involved. This type of language implies carelessness and sluggishness characteristics of someone who may have drank a little to much. Fitzgerald uses these words in active voice to place the reader side by side with the main character in this world. Korman places the reader in his story by using past tense. As a reader, this past tense language triggers memories and I am then able to relate to the characters.

Keeping these in mind I would, like the author, try to place my students in the 20’s maybe by starting class with important excerpts from Jake, Reinvented then ask my students to travel back to the 20’s and read the Fitzgerald’s take on Korman’s described events. I would maybe start the class with popular music from the 20’s to set the mood or display brief history timelines to help my students better understand how life was like in the 20’s.

The Great Gatsby in its entirety can be accessed for free by clicking here.

PBS has a brief overview of the life F. Scott Fitzgerald and that can be accessed here.

The Great Gatsby will be reiterated in the 2012 motion picture. More information on the director and actors attached can be found here.

Francis Ford Coppola, responsible for The Godfather, wrote the screen play for the 1974 film adaption of The Great Gatsby featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. More information on this movie can be found by clicking here.

Gordon Korman’s official website can be accessed by clicking here.

– Brian

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