Jake, Reinvented: Should We "Reinvent" the Classics?

Gordon Korman. Jake, Reinvented. New York: Hyperion, 2003.

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“Same time, same station baby”.
Gordon Korman’s Jake, Reinvented is a modernized adaptation of the classic novel The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby becomes Jake Garrett, a mysterious new student at F. Scott Fitzgerald High School who happens to throw amazing Friday night parties “as regular as the tide”. Jake seems to have everything, kegs, great clothes, a key spot on the football team, fancy car, college friends and the adoration of everyone at F. Scott, except Didi. Those familiar with Gatsby will see many of the familiar plot elements and characters woven throughout Korman’s work. Todd Buckley (Tom Buchanan) is the quarterback of the football team, believes the world revolves around him and manipulates everyone to help himself. This particularly includes his girlfriend Didi (Daisy) who attends the near-by all-girl school. Yet in a high school adaptation everyone has a secret, not just Jake’s past and obsessive feelings toward Didi; Todd likes to fool around with Melissa (Myrtle) on the side, even though Melissa happens to be the girlfriend of fellow football player and notorious hot head Nelson (George Wilson). Didi gets swept up in the overwhelming adoration of Jake but manages to string him along by never truly being able to leave her role as Todd’s girlfriend. This whole scandalous love and lust affair is narrated by Rick (Nick Carraway) who has lofty observations and judgments of all the major players, but never fully becomes a participant himself. This overly attached but detached style is also evident in Rick’s inability to pursue a relationship with Jennifer (Jordan) with whom he has been infatuated since childhood.
Overall Korman’s adaptation seems a little hollow and superficial. In theory, the idea of taking a classic and re-working names and elements to appeal to secondary education classrooms should work. However, in practice Jake, Reinvented seems to be content with merely changing names and stripping out many of the key elements of its mentor. The bare bones outline is there, the love triangle, confusion over drawing relationship boundaries, characters with distorted views of reality. Unfortunately Korman’s piece never moves beyond basic name changes and swapping lavish high society galas with pizza, beer and cupcake house parties.
The work has potential for being taught at a middle school level, to serve as a platform to moving towards a study of The Great Gatsby. As a book seemingly written for a high school audience Jake, Reinvented unfortunately misses the mark in a few key ways. Major elements of the original story seem completely glossed over in this adaptation. Particularly this was evident in the language used to re-tell the story, which seems overly simplistic for high school students. This inability to connect to the target audience is evident in the antiquated dialogue: “You’re an idiot if you keep letting those guys treat you like a clown.” Also there seems to be a lack of creativity in the overall tone of this work. Where The Great Gatsby is so revered for its symbolism and beautifully descriptive language, this update seemed to completely skip over that opting for simplistic, generic descriptions. Finally there is a question of which high school audience Jake, Reinvented is intended for. Most teachers of high school students would find it odd to have a student going around calling everyone “baby”; furthermore educators may find it difficult to address issues of infidelity, casual hook-ups and underage drinking particularly since the book so heavily features these but never really addresses them itself. These are not issues that educators should ignore but if they did choose to use this novel in a classroom setting it would be imperative to be prepared to for these issues to be discussed and have resources for them such as Kids Helpline in order for their students to gather more information and support, if they needed it.
For other reviews on this book and other books by the same author follow the links below:
Jake Reinvented (7)
Jake Reinvented by Gordon Korman (review 3)
No More Dead dogs review 1

Recommendations for Teachers
  • Jake, Reinvented is a very intentional remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby, if you were to choose to teach both of these novels, having your students write a comparative essay on whether they believe Korman did Fitzgerald justice with his remake would help produce critical thinking about both novels and the themes they present.
  • As a teacher it might be interesting to have your students write a letter to Jake either before or after his trial from the point of view of Didi explaining things. This would allow all the students, including more reluctant readers, to be able to connect to these two characters.
  • As stated above, Korman chooses to put his characters in some "taboo" situations, a educator must then be prepared to tackle these issues within the walls of the school. One way to do this effectively would be to have this Language Arts lesson introduce a larger research project on the effects and rates of underage drinking, teen sex and infidelity. Many scholarly websites such as The Washington Post have very informative articles on these very issues and it may be a good place for your students to begin.
  • A GREAT teaching tool is to give the students the ability to be creative and this novel is perfect for such an assignment. Allowing students to pick themes or scene from the book and be able to express them any way they want using film would be a reward for all involved, making sure of course to create whatever boundaries you see fit when it comes to the more sensitive material in the novel. Below under the multimedia section are two great examples of allowing students get creative about their readings. One of my favorite assignments as an adolescent was to create films on the books we were reading and having an "academy award" day filled with awards and lots of humor. This allows the students to celebrate each others creativity and the novels that inspired them. As we all know and important aspect in literature is the ability to share it with others and hear different perspectives. An assignment like this would encourage your students to reflect on their own interpretation and be effected by this literature in multiple ways.

About Gordon Korman
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Gordon Korman (a.ka. G-man) grew up in Montreal, Quebec and unfortunately did not fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a dog but he worked through this disappointment by getting his first novel, This Can’t be Happening at Macdonald Hall, published at age of 14. He actually began writing this novel at age twelve for his English class (who says that track and field coaches don’t make good teachers?) and Scholastic published it two years later. This was only the beginning of Korman’s relationship with Scholastic who published his next 20 books. Korman now has 55 titles to his name and hasn’t put down his pen yet, he is living in New York City with his wife and will continue to write. You can find all of this information and more here at Korman's official website.

The most important review of Jake, Reinvented is the one given by your students, this video was made by high school students in 2008. Although, it is highly entertaining it also shows a creative interpretation of what scenes from the book they decided to leave out and which ones resinated with them enough to be added in. With the technology available to our students today, they are able to interrupt their film with written narration, as well as being able to capture it in a way that manipulates their audience (most likely their peers) to feel the emotion of the last few scenes of the book as they felt them.

Another youthful view, this time of the novel that inspired Jake, Reinvented, is a great representation on how exciting it is to see students be creative and become passionate about the books they are reading, it is a musical tribute to Daisy one of the main characters in The Great Gatsby by two young men. After reading the user comments, this creative video maybe the best way to get a classroom full of students excited about reading a classic like The Great Gatsby. Hurlmaster2254 writes, If our English teacher showed us this before we read the book, instead of after, i might have actually read the book instead of sparknotes", what more motivation does an educator need?

For the lovers of Jake, Reinvented this video maybe and interesting look at upcoming books from the same author. Here author Gordon Korman introduces his new (in 2009) book, Pop, and speaks of his inspiration for writing this and his other novels.

Additional Resources:

  • Teacher Tube : This teacher gives a quick summary and how it relates to The Great Gatsby
  • Unit Plan: A unit plan on Jake Reinvented and how you can use it in the classroom
  • Gordon Korman: This is the official website to all of Gordon Korman. It lists his biography, all his works, contact information, and everything you would want to know about him.
  • The Great Gatsby Summary: A video summary on The Great Gatsby so you can quickly compare to Jake Reinvented
  • Chapter One: Here you can read chapter one of Jake Reinvented
  • Full Text of Great Gatsby: On this site you can read the full text of The Great Gatsby
  • Reviews: Here you can read many reviews from both teachers and students on Jake Reinvented
  • Stellar Award: Gordon Korman won a Stellar Book Award for Jake Reinvented and you can read all about it
  • Buy It!: Amazon has the book at a reasonable price, along with a summary and many reviews. Read it for yourself!
  • Jeopardy Game: This game relates The Great Gatsby to Jake Reinvented. It's a fun way for students to get involved while proving they read the book.
  • Facebook page: Yes even The Great Gatsby has a Facebook page, anyone who has been moved by this book can add a "like" to their page and express their love globally.

--Cassey Stank, Julia Holdsworth, Bethany Powers, Shawn Czerkis
This Lit. Circle has also reviewed Perks of Being A Wall Flower Review 11 and Thirteen Reasons Why Review 2