Book Reviews

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor – Book Review

A book cover for Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor – Book Details

TITLE – Beautiful Little Fools

AUTHOR – Jillian Cantor

GENREretelling, historical fiction

YEAR PUBLISHED – 2022

PAGE COUNT – 336

MY RATING – 4 of 5

RATED ON GOODREADS – 4.43 of 5

A huge thank you to Harper Perennial and Edelweiss+ for providing me with an ARC of Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor in exchange for an honest review.

What It Is About

Tall and slender, his naked flesh so pale it was as if he’d made it through the entire summer without letting even the smallest bit of sunlight touch him. Nothing touched him. Isn’t that what made Jay Gatsby so great?

Don’t read this review (or Beautiful Little Fools) if you have yet to read The Great Gatsby because both contain spoilers on how The Great Gatsby ends.

For those of you who have read it (or watched the movie, or don’t plan to ever read it so you are not concerned about spoilers) – a quick recap:

The Great Gatsby is a story about an obsessive love of a millionaire Jay Gatsby who would do anything (literally) to get another chance to be with Daisy Buchanan. In the end, he gets murdered. And there was nothing mysterious about it, we knew exactly what happened.

Jillian Cantor’s Beautiful Little Fools retells the classic we know. It is a murder mystery that questions what really happened that day when Gatsby got shot at the pull, as well as the events that led to the tragedy.

Because what if Gatsby’s love was more a toxic obsession than anything else? What if he wasn’t killed by the grieving husband George Wilson, whose wife Myrtle was tragically ran down by Gatsby’s car?

What if we got that ending all wrong?

Beautiful Little Fools is told from the perspectives of three women who had significant roles in The Great Gatsby. This is their story. Each had a strong motive to kill Jay Gatsby. One of them decided to do something about it.

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor – My Review

In an instant, the world exploded, the gun smoked. Her fingers shook and burned.
And then, all at once, his greatness flickered.

I read The Great Gatsby a long time ago. All I remember is not caring for it much, but practically nothing else about it. I forgot the majority of the characters, and even the ending is a bit blurry to me.

Well, I will be rereading it now for sure.

Nevertheless, I was really excited about this read. Every now and then, I find myself craving the glamor, theatricness and drama of the early decades of the 20th century. Plus, I usually enjoy retellings quite a bit, and this one sounded particularly intriguing.

Beautiful Little Fools is a – sort of – retelling and a continuation of the classic so many people know and love. We follow the three women (Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker and Catherine McCoy) as they recall the years that lead to Gatsby’s murder. Each provides a unique glance behind the scenes of what we’ve read in the original.

If there’s two things I want you to know before you get married, Daddy told me, it’s how to drive an automobile and how to shoot a gun.

The writing was really good. I loved that it didn’t try to imitate the original. It was its own story, but it still managed to get that ‘the other side of the same coin’ feel. Beautiful Little Fools is a The Great Gatsby’s backstory that shines a different light on everything we thought really happened.

The name of this book came from what Daisy ones said in the original, talking about her daughter, quote:

And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

The main theme of the story is definitely exploring a woman in the men’s world. We follow them as they are trying to define themselves. To figure out who they are with and without men. And to try and find strength in them to just – be.

Jillian Cantor is a very skillful author. I love that she took these obscenely rich and powerful men who had the world at their fingertips, and made a story that was not about them. How different do they look through the eyes of the women forced to pay the price for their whimsies.

And wasn’t that the truth about my life as a Buchanan? All the excess. Whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, more than I could ever want or need. And as a young girl back in Louisville I couldn’t have ever dreamed that I would have all this and still somehow feel vastly empty.

The book starts with a prolog that resets the scene of Gatsby’s murder and makes it clear it was actually a woman who killed him. Then the timeline jumps back a few years prior and starts uncoiling the events that will eventually lead to the tragedy.

And as the story unfolded, it was absolutely impossible for me to guess which one of the women we follow will eventually be pushed over the edge. None of them was necessarily cut out for a murderer, but they all had it in them, given a strong enough motive.

The female voices were spectacular, deep and complex, easy to relate to and feel for even when you don’t necessarily agree with their choices. The characters were flawed but also so vulnerable in their humanity, you can hardly blame them for their weaknesses.

What would the pretty one be like without the good one? Vapid and useless. Vain and sour. I hated even the very idea of myself without her.

Beautiful Little Fools stays true to the original in the sense that many scenes get repeated exactly as they happened in The Great Gatsby. However, while this book doesn’t really change the events, it puts a different perspective on everything.

Because, instead of the glitz and glamour, we get to follow closely the women of this story. Who they were. What they were like. Why they did what they did.  Said what they said. Chose what they chose. And how the guys got them all wrong.

We get to see what was going on in their heads the whole time. And in their lives, when the men weren’t around.

“I always thought it was us women who were the fools,” I whispered. “But I was wrong, it’s been the men all along, hasn’t it?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about this book? Honestly, not much. The only thing I found a bit annoying was the repetitiveness, both when it comes to small phrases and information. Other than that, this was a well written, interesting read.

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor is coming out in January 2022. And I’m sure many of you already can’t wait to get your hands on it.

I’m so grateful I got the chance to read the early copy – it made my weekend. And it reminded me why I love retellings so much – it’s ridiculous how different every story gets when you change the person who’s telling it.

My Signature