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.

BUY HERE:

Phillip Lewis: The Barrowfields

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, The Barrowfields is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

I am fairly certain that to qualify for the genre “literary fiction” there is only one requirement:  that your book must be as morose as possible. Look up Literary Fiction in the thesaurus and you will find the words Depressing, Melancholy, Miserable, Sulky, and Sullen. I cannot name a single book from the genre that does not fit this description. Maybe I’m wrong. But all the examples I can think of are just this.

The Barrowfields is all of these. It starts out interestingly enough–almost reminiscent of Cold Mountain in its descriptions of Appalachia. You can hear the mountain twang in the narrator’s voice as he speaks about his father’s family history. Only later do you realize you’re no longer in the 1800s, but in modern times.

That shift really confused me–as did the change in the narrator’s voice. At some point, he loses that twang and gains a snobby upper class air. To be fair, his father raises him in literature, but the vocabulary used is a bit obnoxious. Words like excrescence, deliquesce, and indomitable are commonplace in his story.

We lose characters a lot in this book too. People just drop off for no discernable reason–his mother, his school friends. People come into his life and then he moves on without them. Time passes, and he isn’t interested in waiting on it.

I feel very  melancholy about The Barrowfields. I didn’t dislike it, nor did I particularly like it. It’s literary fiction, so I suppose I am meant to feel SOMETHING…and I do. I’m just not entirely sure what that SOMETHING is.

Blogging for Books and Hogarth provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

Han Kang–Human Acts

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

This book.

Deep Exhale.

This book is a ghost story. To read this book is to experience the mass casualty that overcomes a city in war. We see both sides–from the living and bereaved–trying to find closure in a city building overcome with overflowing death. We see, too, through the blind eyes of a trapped soul, panicking under the press of rot and gore, unable to release himself from the body that no longer lives.

And that is only the beginning.

This book is a ghost story–and there are so many ghosts. There are only 218 pages, but I could not read this for more than a few minutes at a time without putting my bookmark in and just breathing. I could not cry because I felt like every emotion I had was sucked right out of me.

I’m not sure how to describe this book–beautiful? amazing? great? All of those words could fit but mostly it just tore me to shreds. This short book is exhausting to read and in literature that is the exact opposite of a negative review. Just be prepared when you go into this. Han Kang does not need to waste 500 pages on dramatic world-building, she can do it in a whisper. You will be haunted by Human Acts. This book is a ghost story.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Hogarth for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

Read the World:  South Korea

DiversityBingo2017:  NonWestern Real World Setting

BUY HERE:

 

Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed

When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.

Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?

Opens mouth.

Shuts mouth.

Opens mouth.

Shuts again.

That was…an experience? I have so many mixed up thoughts, which I suppose is not completely unexpected, as this IS Shakespeare retold. I’ve mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare to begin with–it takes me time to come to terms with his plays. But, because this was Margaret Atwood, I wasn’t going to miss it, right?

I was immediately confused by some of the language. Granted, Felix is a snooty theater person, so his speech is “high elitist,” but it is still a little over the top. And the prisoners are just the opposite…is there such a thing as under the top?

And then there’s this sentence:

“Should that happen, his humiliation would be total; at the thought of it, even his lungs blush.”

 

Felix also really took care to describe the races of the prisoners. And I say that with my tongue all the way in my cheek because when he was first introducing us to the men, he would point them out as yellow, red, brown…you get the picture. It was extremely cringeworthy.

I’m sure a case could be made that Felix is an unreliable narrator and this is not actually how the author feels or would refer to people in real life. But I still don’t think it’s at all appropriate or called for. Just because a person is of color does not mean we actually need to refer to them BY that color, especially when in history those colors have had such negative connotations.

While the language really bothered me, I did appreciate the breakdown of the play itself. It was certainly an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I read through the text before beginning this book, and didn’t quite grasp what happened–Felix’s class broke it down so much better! This is what I wish I would have had more of growing up–legitimate discussion of literature. We didn’t read many classics in school, so I missed this. I would have understood Shakespeare better had it been broken down this way, perhaps. I wish I could go back and take lit classes for fun now. It’s why I write this blog–analysis and discussion.

I’m sure all of this is completely unlikely. I know there are classes held in prisons, but full scale theater productions, with props and blackout performances? I can’t see that happening–especially where ministry dignitaries would be allowed unescorted by security. I will say it was an engaging book, but I cannot rate it very highly due to the racial disregard shown. We must do better.

bookdragonbookdragon

I won a copy of this book from Hogarth Books in their Read It Forward newsletter. This post contains affiliate links.

BUY HERE: