17 May 2017

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Summary from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring comes the fifth installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a modern retelling of Othello set in a suburban schoolyard

Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, a diplomat's son, Osei Kokote, knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day so he's lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can't stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players - teachers and pupils alike - will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970's suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi, Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

I am having extreme side-eye with this this book. I love the Shakespeare Hogarth series idea, but I don't think New Boy executed well. We've had Othello updated using teens before but Chevalier chose to use 6th graders in the 1970s as her setting. Her depiction of racial tension in 1970s America worked but the sexual politics fell very flat, particularly since the action took place in a single school day.  One school day.  I know eleven-ish/twelve-ish year-olds are DRAMA (I've got twin nieces that age, tell me about it) but it felt over-constructed. Maybe it would have worked better to run the story over time as the children aged and developed relationships but this was far too short a time span.  In addition, I think Hogarth missed an opportunity to get an author who is not a white person to write Othello's story.  Chevalier is a fine writer, but what would Marlon James have done with this?  Jesmyn Ward? Colson Whitehead? NK Jemisin? Nnedi Okorafor? (OMG, YES PLEASE WRITE THIS, NNEDI)

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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