Wednesday, 3 May 2017

New Boy

Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: Hogarth series
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
First Published: May 16, 2017
First Line: "Dee noticed him before anyone else."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom beloved, bestselling historical novelist Tracy Chevalier, whose mega-hit Girl with a Pearl Earring enchanted readers around the world, comes a poignant, unforgettable adaptation of Othello set in the fierce world of pre-adolescent children, where the grown-up forces of love and jealousy, and the hurt of being ostracized, can be as real and as devastating as for any adult.

"O felt her presence behind him like a fire at his back."


Arriving at his fourth school in six years, 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 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practise a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Taking us vividly into the lives and emotions of four eleven-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 Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I went into this book with only the faintest gist of the themes and characters in Othello - a play I never studied in high school. New Boy is a modern take on Othello and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series where various popular authors (from Anne Tyler and Margaret Atwood to Gillian Flynn who will be taking on Hamlet soon) give some of Shakespeare's famous plays a modern take.

Several issues are addressed within this shorter story (under 300 pages) - from racism, power struggles, betrayal, revenge, love and weakness. The story is set within one school day at a 1970's local elementary school in suburban Washington, D.C with the main cast of characters being a group of 11-year-olds.

I can't say this book work totally worked for me. It's an easy read but I couldn't buy into the idea that 11-year-olds from the 1970's would speak and behave the way they did or be so overtly sexual. It would have been more believable if the characters were in the last years of high school. The shortened time frame didn't give readers time to believe that the strong feelings between the characters or the amount of tragedy and angst were possible.

What I did like was the small, insular setting and the various issues that were addressed. A lot happens within a short period of time but I was impressed with Chevalier's writing and how the issues were handled - particularly the blatant racism of not only the students but the teachers.

This modern interpretation of Othello is a brief look at hierarchy, racism and power struggles within a modern setting. It is a well-written, dark, emotional read that comes to a disturbing and abrupt ending. While I think people who have read Othello would benefit from it more, it could still be considered a good read for people who want to get the general themes of Othello.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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