Wednesday, June 28, 2017

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier: A Review

I first heard about the Hogarth Shakespeare project when I saw Margaret Atwood's retelling of The Tempest, Hag-Seed on the shelf at my local library.  Being that I am a fan of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, I immediately checked the book out and read it.  The project asks accomplished writers to retell the works of Shakespeare.  In New Boy, Tracy Chevalier retells the story of Othello with the characters being elementary school children.  It is the 1970s and Osei's father is a diplomat from Ghana.  His recent transfer has moved the family to a Washington, DC suburb.  Being the new kid, and the only black kid in his school, is never easy but he quickly befriends Dee, one of the most popular girls in the school.  Ian, the local bully, sets his targets on the new boy and begins his plans to harm the budding relationship Osei and Dee share.

This book imparts many lessons, including bullying, kindness and racism.  The bullying and racism aspects of the book were very realistic.  It didn't seem to be overly done and it included a reasoning behind the bullying.  The bullying was very psychological, which I have found to be very true to life.  The characters were a bit strange.  The elementary school students had a maturity that I would attribute more to high-schoolers and the teachers were very immature, making them seem to be about the same age as the students.  I have read Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and did not find the characters to be quite as similar to each other but it could have been because New Boy was so short that it didn't have time for the characters to really develop.  Still, I believe that the students should have had a more realistic age and the teachers could have been a bit more mature (though it is sometimes the case that the adults act the worst in a situation like this).  That being said, I really liked the character of Osei who was able to tell a story about racism and radicalism in America through his own experiences.  The story was very enjoyable to read.  I actually enjoyed it more than other retellings of Othello that I have read and seen.  That it was told from the perspective of children was interesting.  I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Shakespeare or stories about beginning romances.  I also think it would be a great book for an older child or teenager to read to help them understand bullying and racism better and for building an appreciation for Shakespeare and literature, in general (though there are some themes and some language that parents of younger children may be offended by).  I really love the Hogarth Shakespeare series and hope that they will continue the work.

My rating:

In addition to New Boy, the Hogarth Shakespeare project also includes these retellings:
Jeanette Winterson retells The Winter's Tale in The Gap of Time
Howard Jacobson retells The Merchant of Venice in Shylock Is My Name 
Ann Tyler retells The Taming of the Shrew in Vinegar Girl
Margaret Atwood retells The Tempest in Hag-Seed 
Jo Nesbo retells Macbeth (expected in 2018) 
Edward St. Aubyn retells King Lear (expected in 2018) 
Gillian Flynn retells Hamlet (expected in 2021) 

Tracy Chevalier discusses the book in this video:

Reviews of books like this one:
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

This is my honest opinion of this book.  I am a participant in the Amazon Affiliates program.  By clicking on the Amazon link and purchasing this product, I receive a small fee.  I am not associated with Goodreads or Barnes and Noble in any way and the links provided are available strictly for your convenience and not to imply a relationship of any kind. 

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