TITLE: New Boy
AUTHOR: Tracy Chevalier
PUBLISHED DATE: May 16, 2017
Ok...so I need to reread Othello.
This book is short but it packs a punch. This retelling of Shakespeare's epic race story, Othello, is recreated in this suburb of Washington DC in the 1970s. The entire novel is of a single day, the first day of elementary school for a Ghanaian boy.
Osei is a worldly boy, the son of a diplomat, who falls insta-love with Dee, the blonde beauty who is the sweetheart of the school. Enter, Ian, a bully who manipulates circumstances on the school yard in order to create a wedge between the couple.
These are the most self-aware and perceptive eleven-year-olds I've ever encountered in my life! I tried to give a lot of leeway on this as it's a Shakespeare retelling, the writing is so darn good, and I actually remember being an 11 year old and...we weren't saints...but these kids, even in dialogue ask for a bit more than leeway.
Chevalier is fearless in her confrontation with race. This book is set in the 1970s, but it could very well be 2017. Racial attitudes have hardly dimmed, and she nails it. I reserve a bit a criticism for the depiction of Osei's sister, Sisi. Having endured a childhood of racism, she seeks solace in black literature and friends...for that, she is branded a radical. I thought it was harsh. Though Sisi's role in Osei's loneliness looms over him, she is but a small character in the larger story.
Overall, this is an interesting little story that examines race. It does feel preachy and tangent-y at times, and it's probably best to read Othello before tackling this story. I just kept feeling like I would appreciate this story more if I had a fresh read of the original.
University of Oxford Keynote Address: histnovsoc
Recommendation: Prerequisite - read and be familiar with Shakespeare's Othello.
Audience: Millennials and up
*I recieved this ARC on Netgalley.