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New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare) (edition 2017)

by Tracy Chevalier (Author)

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9745124,414 (3.4)31
Member:Jaylia3
Title:New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare)
Authors:Tracy Chevalier (Author)
Info:Hogarth (2017), 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Shakespeare, classic tale update

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New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

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This is the fifth installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, where famous authors offer retellings or re-imaginings of Shakespeare's most well-known works. I've read each of them and, for me, the magic combination is when the author makes her/his work a good story first, and draws in sneaky Shakespeare bits second. The book should be able to stand on its own, without the reader having to have read the original play beforehand to make sense of it. Tracy Chevalier's contribution NEW BOY is a solidly enjoyable read that is enhanced with some familiarity with the source material. Through the author's choice of time, characterization, plotting, and language that the world of Shakespeare is opened up to a wider and more modern audience.

Based on the play OTHELLO THE MOOR OF VENICE, Chevalier's story takes place over one day in a sixth grade American elementary school class. You might think that it's a stretch to recast the characters as children, but in fact it's a stroke of genius. The relationships are dripping with drama and intrigue, and the action so heightened and desperate that it actually is quite a perfect fit. At that age, around 12 years old, adolescence is budding, and kids are discovering the opposite sex as potentially desirable. Relationships form and dissolve within a very condensed timeframe, a truth that also lends itself nicely to the world of NEW BOY.

The story is set in the 1970's in a suburb of Washington, DC. I've spent quite a bit of time there, and it's a truth that the cities around the capital are primarily white, while the inner-city area of DC is much more diverse. This was much more so the case in NEW BOY. The unnamed school in the unnamed DC suburb is entirely white. White students are taught by white teachers, and the school is overseen by white administrators. It is the introduction of a wealthy African family, and specifically their black son, that throws the embedded, systematic, and outward racism of the community into sharp focus.

There are no Moor's in NEW BOY. Instead of Othello, there is Osei Kokote. Born in Ghana to a diplomat father and well-to-do mother, he has lived in many cities around the world before the DC suburbs. In every location, he has faced overt and direct discrimination due to the color of his skin. Doormen refused to acknowledge him, teachers assumed he was cheating on assignments when he got good grades, fellow students left bananas on his desks. From living in many places, he is seasoned at being The New Boy in school and all the pitfalls that come along with it. On his first day at the suburban school he is paired with Dee (Desdemona), a popular girl who comes from a very strict and conservative family. The two of them strike up a fast friendship and, by lunchtime, are a couple. Witnessing this is school bully Ian (Iago), who sees the new boy as a threat to the power he holds over the rest of the school. He decides to enlist his reluctant girlfriend Mimi (Emilia) to discover something he can use to his advantage. Other characters include the golden boy Casper (Cassio), his on-again/off-again girlfriend Blanca (Bianca), and Ian's sidekick Rod (Roderigo). If you're familiar with the characters in OTHELLO, you'll already know how these students interact and form their power struggles and relationships. If not, you'll pick up on the subtle and dynamic goings on easily.

As was mentioned already, the entire contents of the story extend over a single day. The book is broken into 5 parts: Before School, Morning Recess, Lunch, Afternoon Recess, and After School. Although some classroom action is described, the majority of the plot happens in the playground. It really is a microcosm for the world at large - power plays, romantic relationships built and broken, reputations built and destroyed, games of kickball to assert dominance, rope jumping and gossiping, and so much more. The schoolyard is where Ian lurks, sets up his dominoes, then sits back and watches them fall. It's where the pivotal scenes between Osei and Dee take place, and it's where the climax of the day's activities finally finds denouement. Hearts are broken, pains are dealt, and people's true colors are revealed.

The language of NEW BOY is such that it really could be consumed in a single sitting. Perhaps because the protagonists are 12 year old children, only on the cusp of adolescence, the phrasing and detail is kept at a young adult level. While this might be less appealing for readers of adult literature, for a student who might be overwhelmed by the ancient-feeling language of Shakespeare, this novel may be a way in to the story and its study. And just because the dialogue is simplistic doesn't mean that the story itself doesn't hold some complexities.

NEW BOY is truly a story on many levels, and for many different readers. It is a young adult novel about a day in the life of a new elementary school student. It's a discussion of the casual and overt racism that is so endemic in our culture. It's a retelling of one of Shakespeare's most famous plays - Othello. For any and all of these reasons, I would highly recommend giving this latest installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare Series a try. ( )
  BooksForYears | May 28, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I got this book thru the Early Review program at LibraryThing, in exchange for an honest review. This is the second book from the Hogarth Shakespeare series that I've read. Its a series where novelists were tasked with taking one of the Bard's works and reworking or reimagining it in their own style. In this book, Chevalier (The Girl with the Pearl Earring) takes on Othello.

The "play" takes place all in one day in and around the playground of a elementary school in 1970's Washington DC. All he characters are in the 6th grade class. Othello becomes Osei, the son of a diplomat from Ghana, he is the first and only black student at the school Needless to say, he stands out. He meets Dee (Desdemona) on the playground and their attraction is instant. The political intrigue and backstabbing takes the form of kickball games and adolescent attractions and and easily manipulated relationships.

I liked the story, but only when I "forgot" that the story was set with characters that were around 11 or 12 years old. I understand the reasons for setting the story on a playground of a school, I felt that the sophisticated relationships were too sophisticated for such young people. To be honest it kinda creeped me out. In my mind, if I thought the characters were at least teenagers then it worked better for me age-wise. But then, once kids get to middle school, they don't have recess and playtime quite as much, and the playground is an important part of the story. Over all, a good story worth your time. If nothing else, it means I have 6 more books to read to complete the series.

"...a young boy limped out, patched up on his knee and elbow, followed by Miss Montano, who wore a white coat and a face set permanently to unperturbed."

8/10 ( )
  mahsdad | May 26, 2017 |
I looked forward to reading the Hogarth Shakespeare update of Othello by one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Tracey Chevalier.

Set in the 1970s, New Boy is the story of Osei Kokote, son of a diplomat from Ghana, newly arrived on the suburban Washington D.C. schoolyard. O, as he is called, soon finds that Dee, the most popular girl in school, chooses him to be her boyfriend. But Ian, the playground bully, sees his entire social hierarchy threatened by O's love conquest and kickball ability.

Racial stereotyping and prejudice simmers, unspoken but obvious in the teacher's attitudes. When teachers observe Dee and O touching each other's hair it only confirms their worst fears about the black boy.

Ian sets up a series of events to make O suspect his good fortune, bringing misery and physical harm.

Chevalier's playground society rings true to the character's age and time, and the Othello story becomes more chilling and disturbing played out by characters in an America divided by racism.

New Boy is a powerful book. It can stand on its own, but I hope it will be used to introduce young adult readers to Shakespeare's tragic play. I recommended it to my book club.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | May 26, 2017 |
Chevalier takes on Othello in this latest entry from the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The third I have read and am enjoying the different takes the authors are writing to modernize these classics.

She sets Othello in a grade school in Washington DC, and the story takes place all in a day. The students are now in sixth grade, have known each other for years, statuses clearly defined, top of the heap before moving onto Middle schhol and starting at the bottom. White and privileged and inot this grouping, comes a new student, a black boy called O.

A interesting concept and certainly one can see why this would be an enticing setting. I found though, the concept almost two obvious, one can see where this is headed all the way. I felt this became more about racial prejudice, especially from the teachers who have very preconceived notions of the trouble this student will cause, than a recounting or reformatting of Othello. Though the author does throw in some familiar bits to keep the connection alive, strawberries for one and the mention of Ian playing Puck in the students production of Midsummers night dream. Ian, of course being the bully of the piece as far as the children go, but this also presented a problem. In my experience bullies at that age, terrorize, pick on, and steal from those younger than themselves, what I question is Ian's ability to plan and manipulate as he does here.

So as a story I liked this but as a connection to Othello felt it was tenuous at best and maybe had its own agenda. ( )
  Beamis12 | May 25, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is supposed to be a retelling of Othello - one in a series of modern retellings of Shakespeare's plays. Have not read any of those versions, but if this one is any example, I don't think I will be reading any of them at any time in the future. Ordinarily I really like Chevalier. Sadly, this was not one of those times. Did not buy her characters who were eleven year-olds and their fast-moving, short-lived romances. Their dialogue did not ring true to me and so I can only give this one a very poor rating. ( )
  Fourpawz2 | May 19, 2017 |
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