Tracy Chevalier: New Boy

From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring comes the fifth installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a modern retelling of Othello set in a suburban schoolyard

Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, a diplomat’s son, Osei Kokote, knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again. 

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970’s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi, Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

My knowledge of Othello comes from watching the movie O in high school. That one with Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett…which I mostly watched because DUH JOSH HARTNETT.

I thought about reading the actual Shakespeare version before receiving New Boy, but that just wasn’t going to happen with everything else going on this month. So, I just jumped right in. And honestly, I’m kind of glad I didn’t try and stuff my brain with the original first. It would have just stressed me out, and New Boy lays it all out so plainly.

Every time I think I don’t like Shakespeare, I read something like this and I’m amazed at how well it translates into other forms. New Boy is set in a 1970s school yard–a white suburban school yard–and in walks Osei. He’s a wealthy diplomat’s kid, but because he is from Ghana, and thus, black, it is assumed he is poor, underprivileged, and stupid. Everyone but Dee looks upon him with intense suspicion and prejudice–and once she pays attention to him–jealousy.

I will say that this is a white author writing a story about a black boy entering a white school. While the story is not completely about him, it does feature his POV at times, and his reactions. I felt the representation was done in a decent way–much better than other white authors writing black POVs–but I just wanted to put that out there. It isn’t perfect, and as a white reader, I need to allow myself that it is possible I am overlooking something that others might see.

This is a short book, about 200 pages, and I read it in one afternoon. But its impact will spread throughout your consciousness. I hope this makes it onto school reading lists–high school, even though the characters are young, this is not MG fiction. Chevalier set her adaptation in 1970, but she covers topics that are important to today.

Blogging for Books and Crown/Hogarth Publishing provided a copy of this book for honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

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