Charity's Reviews > New Boy

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
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really liked it
bookshelves: hogarth-shakespeare

I love the Hogarth series, and not just because it helps me gain familiarity with the plot of multiple Shakespeare plays that I can't be bothered to read on my own because I'm uncouth and easily bored. I do read them with my children because they love Shakespeare, but I hope they can't spot my ennui. As such, I'm familiar with the basic plot of "Othello" although not with the play itself, but I can speak to the effectiveness of this novel on its own.

I'm not entirely sure this would work without the "Othello" tie-in. I love the idea of setting the story on the playground and condensing the activities into the course of one day, as school dramas tend to unfold at that age, but I agree with other reviewers that at times the language the characters use is a little more introspective and a little more like the daytime talk show psychobabble you'd hear from an adult than from a sixth-grader.

I'm also not sure I believe the dramatic shift in Osei's character between the beginning and the end of the novel. Chevalier is trying to use Osei's current and past experiences as the double-outsider of being the new boy and the only person of color in class to explain how his outward composure and diplomacy covers a profound anxiety and distrust that leads him to believe the story that he fears is true---and that follows the narrative he's come to expect---rather than what he sees with his own eyes. This actually works very well, but his reaction to it, especially the language he uses towards Dee from the play structure at the end of the story, seems out of character with the rest of his behavior. It's just too cruel compared to what we know about Osei from the rest of the story. Although thinking back to my own and others' cruelty at this age, it's not unrealistic, but I still don't quite believe it of Osei.

Aside from these complaints, though, Chevalier very successfully brought the story into our modern-day racism and otherwise conflicted feelings about race, where even those white people who are sincerely trying to work through and move past the racism of their culture bumble through their interactions with people of color. There's so much possibility in the first sections of the story, not just for Osei and his classmates but for us outside the story. Dee and Osei's interactions are so open and vulnerable and it appears that Osei might be brought into the class in a way he and they have never experienced before. If these children can find a way to work through the racism they've inherited and subvert the racist structure of their environment, maybe there's hope for those of us who are on the wider playground of adulthood. In the end it feels both heart-breaking and inevitable when this possibility crumbles.
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Reading Progress

June 20, 2017 – Shelved
June 20, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read-added-2017
June 20, 2017 – Shelved as: hogarth-shakespeare
September 29, 2018 – Started Reading
October 1, 2018 – Finished Reading

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