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.

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