Author: Tracy Chevalier
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 208 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Pub Date: May 16, 2017
Summary from Publisher:
Arriving at his fourth school in six years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote—“O” for short—knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day, so he is lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one boy, used to holding sway in the world of the schoolyard, can’t stand to witness the budding relationship. When Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl, the school and its key players—teachers and pupils alike—will never be the same again.
The tragedy of Othello is vividly transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington school, 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. The world of preadolescents is as passionate and intense, if not more so, as that of adults. Drawing us into the lives and emotions of four eleven-year-olds—Osei, Dee, Ian and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi—Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by love and jealousy, bullying and betrayal, is as moving as it is enthralling. It is an unforgettable novel.
- From Goodreads
Originally drawn to the cover and description of the novel, New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier, best known for her novel-adapted-to-a-film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, I delved into the book understanding the dichotomous theme of racism I was expected to experience.
Though the narrative was written with a juvenile tone to depict the voices relative to the characters’ ages in the book—11-year-old boys and girls—I found the writing far too simplistic to carry the weight of its serious theme.
From the stark and polar opposites in culture found in Dee, the girl with golden hair, and Osei, the new boy from Ghana, to the overt simplicity of a school and playground setting, the story seemed too far-fetched in is microcosmic style to its grand attempt to adapt its story based on Shakespeare’s own Othello.
The key players in the novel from Dee and Osei as already mentioned to the attention-seeking Blanca, the popular and privileged Casper, the shy, yet insightful, Mimi, the following brute, Rod, and the manipulative and conniving character, Ian—together form a cast of characters that puppeteer the racial tensions in the novel.
While its narrative was written primarily with what seemed to be towards a young adult audience, the overt racism in the book was difficult to read even with the understanding that the setting takes place in the early 1970’s when racism was still prevalent and more obvious in western society.
Even with the main character’s privilege in society as a son of a diplomat whose status affords his family the opportunity to live in an expensive high rise building with the security and service of a doorman, as well as the opportunity to attend a prestigious school with children of privilege; the unfortunate and unfair catalyst of affliction for Osei is rooted in others’ perception, racism, and discrimination against him because of his skin colour and culture.
It’s emphasized in the novel that Osei is not only the new boy in school with only a month left until the end of the year, but that he is also the first and only black boy in attendance amidst a population of white teachers and students.
The presence of this new dynamic ruptures the routine and politic of the teacher and student body, which is evident both in the classroom as it is in the playground, which is both disturbing as it is a reality for many people of colour at a time when racism was overtly present and tolerated in society.
While the topic of racism is a worthy theme to showcase if not to discuss and educate readers against it; the over-simplistic story of a group of pre-teen children whose response to a new boy from Ghana seems far too superficial to carry the weight of its importance and complexity.
For readers looking for a quick, but uncomfortable read about the black-white politic in the United States during the 1970’s found in a story about a small group of young children who have yet to learn and understand the inclusion of people of colour into society, and the harsh ramifications of discrimination, then this book is fine to add to the bookshelf.
Otherwise, readers looking for more substance in a character-driven novel that attempts to shed light on the varying levels of racism in the spectrum of a diverse and ever-evolving community of peoples, will need to unfortunately look elsewhere.
Characters: 2.5 stars
Plot: 2.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars
Dialogue: 2.5 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars
A special thanks to Penguin Random House on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, New Boy by Tracy Chevalier through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.
About the Author:
Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington, DC but has lived in England all her adult life. She now has dual citizenship. She has a BA in English from Oberlin College, Ohio, and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. She lives in London with her English husband and son. Before turning to writing full-time, she was a reference book editor for several years. She has written seven novels. Her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, sold four million copies worldwide and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.
- From Book Browse