New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Release: May 11, 2017
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.
I was excited to receive this, excited because I really enjoyed Othello in high school. I enjoyed it so much, I created a stop-animation of the play using rubber ducks for a project with my orchestra stand partner.
I didn’t know how this retelling was going to go. Knowing Othello, New Boy could have gone in a variety of different ways. But Tracy Chevalier stayed true to the original story and doesn’t disappoint.
In New Boy, we meet Osei Kokote on his first day at a new elementary school in Washington, DC. His father is a diplomat, so he’s had a first day several times in new countries. Originally from Ghana, the other students and teachers don’t know how to handle him or what to expect from him. Being this takes place in the 1970s, people of color are still viewed in a different light, either uncertainly or harshly, but there is Dee, a white girl who is fascinated by Osei, or O. She quickly becomes his girlfriend. But Ian doesn’t like it–he doesn’t want to see Osei succeed so he tries to bring him down with discord, using a gift from Osei to Dee against them.
If you’ve read Othello, you know what happens to Othello and Desdemona. I read it eight years ago and I remember the vague idea so there won’t be much comparison from me.
I really enjoyed this, I like seeing Shakespeare set during more modern times. It makes it more understandable and more relatable. Setting the story on a playground of an elementary school is not something I’d expect with such a tragic story, but the time period really helps in making it believable.
I haven’t read anything else by Tracy Chevalier but I’m interested to see what other works she has out there.
This story speaks about race in society and contemporary politics. Osei is an outsider whose treatment is an uncomfortable shadow of the experience of black people and migrants today. The playground is just a small stage for the large national and international issues.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for review.