New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

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“Looking over the kids, he was also hoping to spy something else: an ally. Specifically, one of his own. Another black face or, if that wasn’t available, a brown face, or a yellow face. Puerto Rican. Chinese. Middle Eastern. Anything different from the parade of pink-and-cream suburban Americans. But there was none. There rarely was.”

Fifth in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Tracy Chevalier has taken Othello and set it on a 1970’s suburban schoolyard. Seems tame? Don’t be fooled, it’s a jungle out there! Osei Kokote, a diplomat’s son from Ghana has been to enough schools to know how to navigate his surroundings. Look for an ally, avoid the bullies hungry for fresh blood. Who knew the presence of a ‘black boy’, as the students and teachers can’t help but focus on, could change the standing alliances and relationships. Love blossoms, withers and dies in a day. The children spit racism learned on the laps of their parents and the staff is even worse. I imagine some youth of today think it’s far fetched, that in the 70’s teachers would be this obvious in their racism, but disgustingly there were things that reminded me of stuff I overheard in elementary school. The main players are Osei “O” naturally, Dee, Ian and Mimi. Ian is Mimi’s boyfriend, whether she really wants him to be or not. Her only way out from under his thumb may cause the collapse of her sweet friend Dee and O’s budding love. Love on a playground full of 11 years old seems silly, but young minds have yet to learn how to corral their emotions. Ian wreaks havoc not simply out of jealousy but because he can. “Can you believe it? He’s in our class! I dare you touch him.”  Touch him, Dee will and between the revulsion and fascination each student experiences as they witness these tender moments one wonders if the pretty popular girl’s love and acceptance will be enough to change the bitter minds of small children.

Walking in O’s shows is terrifying, and yet there is a admirable bravery in such a young boy. The children do have deeper thoughts than most 6th graders but it works. Reading this reminded me of why I would never do my childhood over again, the politics of the schoolyard are brutal- and don’t imagine it’s changed much. Sure, we think racism is extinct but it’s not, there is always someone ‘different’ enough to circle and peck at. Admittedly, I can’t say that kids don’t have such dramatic relationships, because thinking back (many moons ago) when I was in sixth grade, I remember couples that seemed to be playing ‘grown up’, whose relationship was a heated topic of discussion. There were tears, jealousies, break ups and reunions of their love, how deep their love! Crazy, but kids love to mimic the adult world, and want nothing more than to grow up fast.

Why one boy, Ian, takes an immediate hate to him is easy to understand. O is everything he isn’t, he is a threat to someone who is small inside. The ending is shameful and depressing. Shameful that the viciousness of one man in charge can enrage O so much that he will do something drastic and then we are left there wondering about what really just happened. I enjoyed this more than I thought, because some of these kids are feral! I was intrigued, yes read it!

Publication Date: May 16, 2017

Crown Publishing

Hogarth

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