Friday 17 August 2018

New Boy

'New Boy' by Tracy Chevalier is the third novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series that I have read (see Hag-seed and Vinegar Girl), and one I felt confident to tackle having studied Othello for A level. It is set in an elementary school in 1970's America, where the arrival of Osei Kokote as the new boy causes a stir amongst the white children, upsetting the precarious balance of power and established relationships. It is a wonderful recreation of the story because the world of children acts as a microcosm for adult society and the compression of the story into a single day encapsulates the intensity and the transience of their emotions. Bonds between the children are formed and broken over the course of the day as Osei and Dee take an immediate liking to each other and the school bully Ian conspires to break them up. It is cleverly written, capturing the racial tension of the era and has a subtle understanding of children's concerns; it would have been easy to have portrayed them as petty jealousies and shallow emotions but Chevalier takes the reader inside the children's world and you feel the full weight of their experiences. 

"The moment the black boy walked onto the playground that morning, Ian had felt something shift. It was what an earthquake must feel like, the ground being rearranged and becoming unreliable. The students had had almost the whole year - indeed, the past seven years at elementary school - to get into their established groups, with their hierarchies of leaders and followers. It ran smoothly - until one boy arrived to destabilise everything. One massive kick of a ball, one touch of a girl's cheek, and the order had changed. He scrutinised O, now in his line, and could see the rearrangement gong on to include this new leader - the shifts as other students subtly turned towards him, as if he were a light they followed, like plants seeking the sun. As Ian watched, Casper stepped up behind O and began talking to him. He gestured over the fence, clearly discussing O's kick, and then nodded. Just like that, the black boy had gained the respect of the most popular boy in school, and was going with the most popular girl, and had laughed with Ian's girlfriend - and it wasn't even lunchtime yet." (p.79)

As with both the other two Hogarth Shakespeare this one was a satisfying retelling, a very creative resetting but one that captured perfectly the essence of the original. Recommended for Shakespeare lovers everywhere, and for those alienated by previous experience.

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