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New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
No. 5 in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, this is Chevalier's re-telling of Othello, set on the playground of an elementary school in the 1970's. The new boy of the title is Osei, whose father is a diplomat. The family is from Ghana, and this is Osei's 4th new school in five years. He feels he is getting the hang of negotiating the pitfalls of being new, even when he is the only black student in the class. But this is sixth grade; boys and girls are beginning to pair up, albeit sometimes only for a day or two. With only a month of the school year remaining, everyone is getting ready to move on to junior high, and new emotions, new fears, new ambitions seem to be driving their every move. The presence of a new and exotic foreigner intensifies everything. I wish I could say I loved this entry in the excellent Hogarth series, but unfortunately, it did not work for me at all. I was too aware of the source material, and could not get lost in the story. I felt the primary elements of Othello were pasted on to these children and their circumstances. Maybe I'm too far removed from my own sixth grade psyche, but I simply did not believe in any of these characters. The action is compressed into one school day, making character development very difficult. Too much explanation of who each young person was, what their pasts were like, the dynamics of their previous interactions, and the motivations behind what they were up to today had to come from the omniscient narrator; there was no subtlety in the presentation, and no time to develop sympathy for any of them. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | May 25, 2018 |
Chevalier does not disappoint with this modern spin on the classic tale. New Boy is a retelling of Othello in Random House’s Hogarth Shakespeare series. Other retellings in this series include Hagseed by Margaret Atwood (a retelling of The Tempest) and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler.

At 206 pages, this is almost a novella, but its succinctness is perfect for the retelling. The simmering racism pervades throughout, and the setting Chevalier chose lends an interesting cultural perspective.

Set in Washington, DC in the 1970s, the cast of characters are sixth graders on the cusp of adolescence, experimenting with adult situations that involve romance and manipulation. The new boy is Osei, a dark-skinned African who has some experience being the “other” in a classroom of white faces. He keeps to himself, ignoring the curious stares and reluctant approaches of the other kids. He befriends Dee, a popular girl who is fascinated with his exoticness. There is also the conniving Ian, intent on destroying their relationship.

The entire story takes place in a single day, mostly through drama on the playground. An ordinary day at the elementary school turns dark quickly as alliances dissolve and primal fears emerge.

The use of tweens is a clever twist on the original; they’re young enough to maintain a sheen of naivete and just old enough to begin the subtle art of manipulation. The diabolical machinations of Ian, however, were a little too complicated to be completely believable. The complicated maneuvers were necessary, however, in order to reflect the original Shakespeare, even though in this instance Iago is only eleven years old. That complaint aside, New Boy is a refreshing take on the old story, one that many younger readers will be able to identify with.

Recommended. Many thanks to bloggingforbooks.com for this copy in exchange for my honest review.
( )
  ErickaS | May 2, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I’ve read five of the Hogarth Shakespeare’s to date and have really enjoyed the series. It’s interesting to see what authors do with a retelling of a classic play in the same way it is interesting to listen to how a musician might cover a classic song. Sometimes they stick close to the original, sometimes they get very “original” with it and make it their own. Sometimes it is like jazz with only a faint return to the signature phrase now and again. I try to (re)read the play when I read one of these to get both perspectives before I review them and as an excuse to revisit the plays. Being a Shakespeare lover, I have been vacillating on whether to buy these books or just check them out of the library when possible. (Or luck into them via LT Early Reviewers like I did for this one and for Atwood’s Hag-Seed).

As for New Boy, I’m extremely late on this review so I’d definitely call it “Library Thing Late Reviewers” book. Even late to the party, I still didn’t get around to a re-read of Othello. I hope to see it this year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival but as that hasn’t happened yet either, I’ll have to rely on a very foggy 30+ year old remembrance of the play.

Chevalier sticks pretty close to the Othello plotline, almost like a director making those tweaks to sets and casting that will make a production unique but still acceptable to theatre goers expecting to see Shakespeare. I feel like her book could definitely be staged, unlike some of the others in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. She moves it to the schoolyard in the suburban Washington D.C. of the ‘70’s. Chevalier leans much more heavily on race than the original Shakespeare. As a bussing kid in the ‘60’s-‘70s, I could totally see to a lot of these characters, the institutionalized racism of the schools, playground bullying, crushes, and the more minor happenings. Thank goodness nothing quite so violent happened on my playgrounds and schoolgrounds but the tension was definitely there. Sadly, it still is in some places, and is now being encouraged at the highest level in the U.S.A.

Osei seems a nicer and more innocent Othello even if he meets the same end. As this is an elementary school playground, most of the characters are more innocent than Shakespeare’s adults, with the exception of Ian/Iago who’s violent and pre-meditated bullying is scary throughout the book and leading up to the climactic scene that the Bard would be proud of (I think!?). I would say this one is definitely worth a read. ( )
  jveezer | Apr 30, 2018 |
Shakespeare’s Othello is always powerful, always uncomfortable and always timely. It’s testament to the writing and, unfortunately, the continuation of human vice and strife that this should be so more than 400 years after it was first performed. Tracey Chevalier has made a bold choice in the framing of her Hogarth rewrite, choosing to recast the familiar characters as children and set all the events during a single elementary school day. Othello therefore becomes a coming-of-age story in which the protagonists confront racism, jealousy and sexual prejudice. Some of these elements work better than others.

The children are curious when they notice Osei in the playground one morning. He stands out not only as the titular New Boy but also as the only black student. They are curious and uncertain, they whisper in groups and there is more than one racist remark. As Osei (“O” because it is easier for Western tongues) negotiates his way through the trials of finding his place in a new school and combats the semi-innocent prejudice of his peers and the knowing hostility of some of his teachers he meets Dee, our Desdemona. She’s attracted by his calm and his difference and they are soon “going” together in the sudden and ephemeral way of children, sowing unease and raising eyebrows amongst children and adults alike. What will Dee’s mother (apparently very strict and conservative if we are to believe the vague hints) think about her daughter’s relationship with “the bl-, I mean new” boy? From the side-lines our Iago (Ian), the playground bully, is disgusted and plots the downfall of the couple. Chevalier cleverly works in some of the key aspects of Shakespeare’s play, with a strawberry-decorated pencil case becoming the gift and favour destined to come between the lovers. Unfortunately some of the keys themes of Othello work better than others.

The racial aspect of the play is given an interesting perspective by the youth of the characters. Chevalier convincingly represents how easy it is for children to learn and adopt the prejudices of their elders and how these can utterly, and dangerously, define the identities of others. Racism is, after all, a frankly But there is also the ability of children to upset and reject these preconceived ideas, to accept people simply as themselves. When contrasted with the deeply unpleasant attitudes of one teacher in particular the changeability of the children offers some measure of hope. Choosing to set New Boy in the 1970s was a little more puzzling. While on the one hand it allows Chevalier to frame her story amongst the later, more radical Civil Rights activism of Black Power, Black is Beautiful and the Black Panthers, a new (represented by Osei’s older sister) it could easily, and perhaps more powerfully, have been set today. After all we haven’t solved these problems and many feel we are moving backwards rather than forwards with the alt-right representing the modern “acceptable” face of racism and prejudice.

The main problem with the story is that the original is so inescapably mired in sex and violence. It’s about sexual jealousy and women’s lack of control over their interactions with men. Every action and conversation policed and judged and laid open to criticism and accusation, and so often violence. This is not to say that this aspect of the play is irrelevant, we’ve tackled sexism no more successfully than we have tackled racism, but these children are so young that it is not as convincing or as impactful as it could have been. Of course the oversexualisation of children and their relationships with their peers and their elders is an important current theme but some of the responses and attitudes of these children do not fit. They are too deeply felt, too violent, too thoughtful.

Iago, that repository for so much human vice, is not well-suited to the body of an eleven year old, particularly one who motives and personality are so little explored. There are hints of a difficult home life, the influence (and reputation) of several older, possibly delinquent brothers, and brief mention of possible abuse. This isn’t enough. Any situation which can create a child with worrying tendencies towards casual, sexual and racial violence at such a young age needs to be dealt with more thoroughly and sensitively. His relationship with his “girlfriend” Mimi as well as that of Osei and Dee may represent a concern with the sexual (im)maturity of young children but it fails to really offer insight. It’s a difficult thing to write children well, especially when they are dealing with issues we consider, rightly or wrongly, to be adult. In this case I can’t help but think that making the characters even a few years older, or allowing these relationships to develop over a longer period would have served the story better. ( )
  moray_reads | Mar 20, 2018 |
The Hogarth Shakespeares are all new interpretations by modern writers. I liked Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl (the Taming of the Shrew), and I am an admirer of author Tracy Chevalier (Girl With A Pearl Earring). But this new Othello, set in an elementary school in 1974 over the course of one tumultuous day, diminished the power of Iago's betrayal and Othello's downfall by reducing them to 5th grade problems. Oise, the Othello stand-in, is a fully realized tragic character, but the inner thoughts of these overly precocious eleven year olds is given far too much weight and credit. ( )
  froxgirl | Mar 17, 2018 |
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Starting his fifth school in five years, Osei Kokote, a diplomat's son, hoping to survive his first day becomes friends with Dee, the most popular girl in school, but Ian is determined to destroy the budding friendship.

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