New Boy – Tracy Chevalier

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.

newboyAt 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.

Rust and Stardust – T. Greenwood

rustandstardustIn 1948, 11-year-old Sally Horner stole a notebook from Woolworth’s. Frank LaSalle, newly released from prison, witnessed the theft and grabbed Sally, telling her he was with the FBI. Terrified of getting in trouble, she agreed to leave with him, and she didn’t come home for two years.

I was drawn to read this novel after discovering that Sally’s story inspired Nabokov’s Lolita.

Rust and Stardust is a fictionalized account of what may have happened during Sally’s two years on the run with Frank LaSalle. LaSalle mentally and physically abused Sally, convincing her at first that he was the law, then that he was her real father. Sally was naïve and gullible, believing that she had to keep quiet or she would get in trouble. He took her across the country, evading the police and the FBI, telling neighbors that Sally was his daughter.

No one thought to question his story.

Rust and Stardust gives life to a real story that has almost been lost to history. Told from multiple points-of-view, the story follows Sally’s nightmare with Frank LaSalle, and also the horrible anguish of her family searching for her. The author deftly recreates Sally’s thought processes, showing how this young girl could believe such outlandish lies even while enduring abuse and isolation. Even though I knew the outcome, this was a gripping story. My heart was racing while I turned the pages.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (yes, that one)

I read this . . . so you don’t have to. And please, if you’re thinking of reading it anyway, just don’t. Try some Turgenev. Or anything else, really.

Also, I read this entire thing on my phone. Thanks, Serial Reader app! It only took me seven months to read 235 installments of this book.

aint-nobody-got-time-for-war-and-peace_o_1065936
Meme stolen from the Internet

This was a slog.

Ol’ Leo apparently couldn’t decide if he wanted to try to write Anna Karenina (which he did, later) or publish his dissertation about the motives of war, military strategy, how historians should address historical events, and philosophical musings about  the theory of the The Great Man. I’d say War and Peace gives you about half a story and about 9,000 lectures of historical analysis.

If you’re looking for a great epic novel like Anna Karenina, this ain’t it. If you want to read an expository text about military strategy and philosophical musings about how historians should approach battles with the benefit of hindsight, please, enjoy this dry, Homeric tome of pedantic scholarship. Maybe since he got all this analysis of politics and society in 19th century Russia out of his system, it freed him to go on and actually write a novel.

There are some good parts that I enjoyed. I liked Pierre and was fascinated with his time as a French prisoner of war. It was interesting. The rest of the characters . . . eh. Didn’t care. That’s a lot of reading for “didn’t care.” In War and Peace, Tolstoy also has a 13-year-old girl’s perspective of  romance. Girls develop crushes instantaneously, boys see a girl at the opera one time and become obsessed. I think he was bored with the fiction parts and just wanted to get back to telling us why Napoleon wasn’t really all that great.

Leo, please, kill your darlings. You’re boring the shit out of us.

Try Anna Karenina instead! It’s like a Russian, Victorian Downton Abbey! I still love you, Leo, but I’m glad this is over.