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Our Books, Our Shelves: Crafting Your Own Reality

A picture of author Nghi Vo and the book 'The Chosen and the Beautiful'

As I’m writing this, there’s a stack of sixteen ARCs of The Chosen and the Beautiful on the windowsill next to me, and it tells me two things. First, Tordotcom Publishing assumes that I know way more people than I actually do, and second, at some point in the last few years, I wrote a book, something that can actually be seen and touched.

There’s a material reality to the ARCs as they sit next to me in a pile that’s taller than my cat. If I’m honest, it makes me a little nervous. It’s not like the story of queer Vietnamese-American Jordan Baker wasn’t real for me before this. I wrote Jordan’s story in four frenetic months in 2019 during a spate of family events and travel. Nothing’s quite as real as what you manage to produce desperately at a diner inside a casino at around four in the morning. Chosen is always going to retain some of that feverish quality in my memory, I think.

What gets to me as I flip through the ARC I’ve separated out as officially mine is that now it’s going to be real for everyone else, too. I mean, it was real for my friends who had to listen to me talk things out at them, and I’m sure it was real for my agent, who had to steer me away from using as many ghosts as I wanted to use (so many—I wanted to use SO MANY dead people), but now it’s going to be real for people I’ve never even met and probably will never meet. And that’s pretty spooky.

Given the fact that I took English in an American high school, I’ve almost certainly written a paper about how the theme of The Great Gatsby is the failure of the American Dream. I may even have believed it when I wrote it, and I probably wouldn’t disagree with that premise. These days, however, I think I would write a different paper.

If you asked me to write a paper about the theme of The Great Gatsby today (twelve-point font, Times New Roman, double-spaced, no messing around with the margins), I would want to talk about the nature of reality, and how some people exist so hard they can convince the world around them to come along for the ride. That’s Gatsby’s great trick, after all, to propose a reality so beautiful, so attractive and compelling and charming, that you won’t even look at dirt-poor Jimmy Gatz from North Dakota. It’s a great trick until he can’t sustain it, and his reality falters under the weight of his world.

In The Chosen and the Beautiful, Jordan Baker is still trying to sort out her own reality. She knows she’s an exotic novelty to the mostly white crowd she runs with. She knows that she had better be stronger and smarter and colder than anyone around her suspects she is. She knows that she’s got magic in her fingertips.

What she doesn’t know is where she fits in, and as I pushed and pulled Jordan through this one terrible summer in 1922, she learns that she can shape her world in ways that she never anticipated. They’re not the ways she might have chosen, but they’re real, and she finds out that not only is she allowed to exist, she can make it someone else’s problem that she does. May we all learn such things as quickly as Jordan gets to, though maybe with fewer dead people along the way.

I don’t write with morals in mind—generally, I’m too busy trying to keep the balls in the air to worry much about such things—but if there is one to this story, I suspect it’s something about learning how to exist in the world, and how to do it so hard and with such conviction that no one can deny it. It’s not easy, it won’t make you popular, and sometimes it might cost you more than you ever bargained for. But you will exist, and, well, every time, that’s better than doing otherwise.

On June 1, 2021, The Chosen and the Beautiful is going to stop being this thing that I’ve only shared with the people who care for me. As it ventures out into the world and becomes real for everyone else, all I can do is hope that it lives up to the faith and the expectations that it has been given, and that the readers find not only the joy I put into it but the anger and the wonder as well.

There’s a reality waiting on the other side of this cover, and I hope it’s the one I wanted to give you.

Get your copy of The Chosen and the Beautiful today!

About the Book:

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow calls The Chosen and the Beautiful “a subversive, sexy, atmospheric, sweltering, gin-soaked, Hell-haunted vision of Gatsby’s New York, with prose that will pull you under.”

About the Author:

Nghi Vo is the author of the acclaimed novellas When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and The Empress of Salt and Fortune, a Hugo Award and Ignyte Award finalist, and the winner of the Crawford Award. Born in Illinois, she now lives on the shores of Lake Michigan. She believes in the ritual of lipstick, the power of stories, and the right to change your mind. The Chosen and the Beautiful is her debut novel.

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