Whoever thought that your schooldays were the best days of your life should read this. It portrays playground politics set in one school day. The ending took my breath away.
The one thing we all took from this book was that we all felt the ages of the children was too young given what they're all doing. It made us feel quite uncomfortable to read what they were doing when we realised the ages of the children involved. They seemed to be doing some very adult things in terms of being so deceitful, we felt that it wasn't within their grasp to be able to do these things. If the children had been just a few years older this could have been a much better book just from that point.
Obviously a lot of the discussion points in this book are the same as those use when discussing Othello as this book is based on the play and it's very close in story to it.
We felt that Ian was a very jealous young child who just wanted everything for himself for no other reason than he hated to see other people with things or people that weren't his. We were very confused as to why all the other children listened to Ian (obviously this was because of the Othello link but we just couldn't see it in these children). We felt that Ian's hatred for O wasn't anything to do with his skin colour or even him as such, it was all just because O found it so easy to get all the things that Ian had been trying to get for the past year.
As with the play you can just feel the tension building through the book, you know it's all going to end badly but you can't stop reading or hoping things might go well. Given that when we did get to the end we found it quite disturbing and then the fade to black we didn't really enjoy.
Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.
I read this book in its own right, without prior knowledge that it was a modern rewriting of Othello. I thought that the characters and situations were well drawn, however I had a slight problem with the ages and apparent awareness of the children involved. Despite this, I found the book very readable, and feel that it would make the works of Shakespeare more appealing and accessible to younger readers.
I really enjoyed this book ... I had no previous experience of Othello, but this is definitely well worth a read and would be suitable for a teen audience.
Osei is the son of a diplomat and is starting yet another first day at a new school, this time in 1970s Washington. He has done this many times before and has developed strategies to cope with being a lone black child in an all-white schoolyard. The book chronicles the events surrounding this first day in his new school. By the time the school day ends, nobody who was there will ever be quite the same again.
Extraordinary. Just one day, but what a book. I cannot find the words to express its brilliance. More of a novella than a novel, it is proof that length isn’t everything. New Boy is, apparently, a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello. I am afraid that I was put off Shakespeare in school and have never managed to rekindle any love for his works whatsoever. As a result, I am ashamed to say that I do not know Othello’s story but I don’t think it mattered one iota. New Boy was still one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It is poignant, well constructed, believable and utterly brilliant. It should be a lesson to us all and I will certainly never forget it. I think there is a good chance it will end up on school curriculum reading lists and quite rightly so. Reflecting on the book after I had finished it (and trust me, I did this quite a lot), I suppose that reality has, to a certain extent been suspended. The events of the day are probably unlikely when taken as a whole, but I was so utterly absorbed that this did not strike me at the time of reading. Nor do I feel that it detracts in any way from the message that the book conveys, in fact I think it probably enhances it.
Everybody will learn something from this book and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
My U3A Reading Group was delighted to receive this book; most members had read something by Tracy Chevalier and looked forward to reading 'New Boy'. It is rare that we are unanimous in our views but this was the rare occasion. No - one liked this book. The sexualisation of 11 year olds made people uncomfortable. This and the language used, especially for the 1970s, was not believable. What 11 year old would say any of the following? - Page 33 'it seemed to O that she was lit from within by something most kids either did not have or hid deep inside: soul'; Page 72 ' but boys rarely did - they were better at talking than listening'; Page 86 'attuned to her pain'; Page 89 'it was the sexiest thing she (Mimi) had ever seen'; Page 120 'the desire he had for her'; Page 178 'Whore'.
It was, fortunately, a short book but it gave the impression that the writer had been commissioned to do something she didn't really want to and so got it over with as soon as possible.
There is some interesting information about the American flag!
I'm afraid this book wasn't for me. After enjoying " Girl with a Pearl Earring " so much I was very disappointed. I'm almost 70 and wonder if the book was intended for a much younger audience, perhaps even middle to late teens. The language and style used were simplistic and I found the plot slow.
Being unfamiliar with the American school system I was unsure of the ages of the pupils in the story. Having asked a friend who was having the same problem , we decided from their actions and attitudes to place them at about 14 years old. Quite near the end of the book I discovered that the move from junior high to senior takes place at the same age as our children move from junior to senior school. The children were in fact 10 and 11 years old. This didn't sit right with me. Perhaps I'm not as broad minded as I think.
Sorry I didn't enjoy this read and had it not being given to our group to review I definitely wouldn't have bothered to finish it.
An enjoyable light read showing the difficulties of growing up in a society when an outcast arrives to alter the balance of friendships. Left hanging at the end to come to different conclusions. How times have changed (hopefully) from the early 1970s where race and colour were more difficult to accept.
There follows three reviews by members of BiblioBellesWI. We received free copies in advance of us reviewing but these reviews are not influenced by that.
New Boy by Tracy Chevalier reviewed by KathyL of BiblioBelles
As a massive fan of Jo Nesbo, I was intrigued to learn that he was rewriting Macbeth as a modern novel. Then I found out about the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, which I surely must have learned of in years gone by but forgotten about! It was through that I learned about TC’s rewriting of Othello as a modern novel. Around the same time, I saw the chance to apply for a free set for our reading group, was lucky enough to be given this and we finally got around to reading it.
Within the space of a few pages, New Boy made me think back to my own life in the early 70s when I shared lodgings with a female student from Atlanta, Georgia. I remember her telling me of her experiences as one of the first few black students entering all white schools. Racial apartheid didn’t figure in my personal background, except as a constant news feature on TV and in the press. It certainly brings home how far we have come in many ways, but also, how human nature persists, as do Shakespeare’s plays because of how he captured so much of the essence of humanity in all it’s glories, shortcomings and frailties.
Having recently seen Mark Rylance as Iago in Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Othello, as also their new write play Emelia, I couldn’t help but think of these whilst reading New Boy, and draw parallels and comparisons between the characters and how they came across in each of these three offerings.
My apologies for these digressions which I nonetheless feel are a relevant part of my review. As readers, we each engage with the written word by bringing our own selves with our history, personality, intelligence and preferences into our interpretation of the content offered.
To return to Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, I found the school setting to be a great choice. However, TC claims these characters are 11 years old. From the start, I felt something didn’t quite square for me. Kids do seem to be more involved in the adult world at an earlier age than when I was that age so I thought that must be it - I felt they were at least early teens, and/or I thought American kids must go to their high school at a later age (I confess to not knowing the system but it’s always seemed quite a bit different from the UK). I didn’t know Chevalier is American and was therefore drawing a lot on her first-hand experiences/knowledge, so guess my niggles about playground equipment and games is a problem of my perspective. (I felt better about ‘having got their age wrong’ when I read a Times Literary Supplement review describe them as 15 year olds.) Let me put aside those somewhat petty, negative comments and turn now to what I loved about her book.
All of the action within one day. All of the action within less than 200 pages. Very daring ambitions if your work might be compared with that of the Bard. TC has certainly delivered a version of ‘Othello’, but in an amazingly concise manner without being enslaved to the original. She retains the necessary whilst cleverly changing so much that the novel stands complete without reference or knowledge of Shakespeare’s play.
I love the descriptive language - how Chevalier describes a character’s head so well that we, the reader, feel another character’s need to touch it; and who amongst us hasn’t felt a gut-wrenching moment which could be described thus ‘his whole being seemed to hollow out, like a sandcastle at the beach collapsing in on itself’. Her choice of physical object that is the catalyst and focus of the green-eyed monster is genius, especially given the backstory of its importance to the main characters - and that very tactile nature of its description that engages the reader right down to his/her very fingertips.
I feel that Chevalier may have had in her mind’s eye the possibility of such a text being used in comparative studies alongside Othello. Were I teaching the one, I’d certainly be looking at the other with my students. New Boy offers rich seams of discussion within and outside of the text. Great job 👍🏼
New Boy reviewed by Liz Beaumont of BiblioBelles
An intense and at times uncomfortable read. This novel is a real departure from the historical novels Chevalier is known for.
The author perfectly captures the life of an elementary school, its pupils and staff. The social mores of the characters are explored in detail and Chevalier creates a believable school environment rich in compassion, tension and competition.
Throughout the book you sense that danger is on the horizon. Chevalier builds the tension in a subtle and effective way which makes this novel a page turner.
Not a book to take to the beach or one to relax with. This is a serious read that will leave you feeling that you have completed a good work out, and like all good work outs you feel great when its finished.
New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
A review by Emma Hayward of Stone Rangers WI “BiblioBelles” reading group.
I came to reading New Boy with only a cursory knowledge of Othello but left it wanting to know more about the original upon which it was based. Initially, this minor knowledge was a distraction, making me mentally compare the plot and characters of New Boy to Othello to see where the similarities were, but as I got further into the story it took on a character of its own and I was keen to see where it would go.
That Chevalier set the story in the final year of junior school was an interesting device, I am sure many of us have keen memories of that particular school year, seeming to be on the cusp of something bigger, trying out bigger and more grown up thoughts, feeling and actions and in some ways (as Ian certainly appears to think) with nothing to lose. Those adults which do appear in the story seem to be bit parts, little more than echoes of the consciences of the main players.
Similarly, the 1970s setting gives the characters a freedom of action that would be less probable if set in current times, with helicopter parenting coddling such independent thinking. Some of the cultural references were lost on me, as a non-American audience, but sufficiently explained for me to see their relevant.
Where the story does show modern values is the balanced use of gender within the storyline, each female given equal prominence and lines to her male counterpart. Sisi, the absent sister appears to be the fulcrum between Osei’s former New York life and now, his childhood and awakening political and racial conscience; her absence removing the stabilising element Osei has previously relied on.
I think the setting of the story, with a cast of children wearing their hearts on their sleeves and the added tension of race relations, makes its turn from joy to sorrow, love to jealousy more believable than perhaps the original Othello, even if the time scale of a single day is implausible. Chevalier’s book does a good job of creating an original narrative and acts as a comprehensible plot summary for Othello to boot. I shall be recommending it to my English Literature A-Level-studying teen and am keen now to see Othello performed as a result.
This is a book about an 11-year-old boy named Osei from Ghana. His father is a diplomat and the story takes place in the 1970s in Washington, DC. Everything happens over one day, the first day in a new school for Osei. With a month to go in the school year, all the children are well established with their friend, lunch groups, sports hierarchy, etc, and Osei, the only black child in the school, is thrown into this mix.
I found this book a tense, uneasy read, waiting for the tragedy that you know will happen to happen. It is indeed a page turner. The book is about racism. This is revealed through the school children as well as the bigotry of the teachers. The story mirrors the well-known racial struggles of the time in the US. I found the characters had good depth, were complex and helped to move the story along nicely. There is a lot of tension in the story as Osei struggles to cope with being the only black child in the school.
Osei's been in similar situations before, attending many different school as his father's work dictates. He has experienced how to cope in the past. We see things, unsettlingly, from his perspective. He has worked out who to sit with at lunch, what position to take in sports and what to say or not in school. Through the evil actions of classmate and tyrant, Ian, chaos and the ultimate demise of not only Osei, but also several of the other characters ensues.
The book is short, but powerful. It is well written and very readable; however, the content is disturbing on many levels.
Why rework Shakespeare? I enjoyed this short book, up to a point. The playground drama works well and Chevalier draws the characters excellently. I do wonder why the author chooses to set this schoolyard drama in Washington D.C. in the 1970s. Are sixth grade students aged 15 as the TLS reviewer suggests? Yes, I do feel that I am perhaps being overly critical and felt the playground situations were well handled but the sexual relationships did not resonate with me as being in keeping with sixth graders.
This book provoked much discussion and would be an great addition to a secondary school library.
We received copies of this book from the noticeboard and as many of our group were familiar with Tracy's other works we where intrigued to see what this was like.
For some it wasn't what they were expecting but all enjoyed it and it led to lots of lively discussion.
We liked the setting and could identify with the characters drawing from our own and children's experiences of school ground politics. We decided it would be a great way to engage teenagers in some difficult subject areas such as race discrimination, jealously and relationships. We can highly recommend it as a group read , if your groups likes a good starting point for debate.
This is another in the project where well known authors retell one of Shakespeare's plays, in this case Othello, although it wouldn't matter whether the reader was familiar with the Shakespeare version or not. I've read all of Tracy Chevalier's novels and was really looking forward to reading this one, too, and although I enjoyed it I found it much less convincing than any of her other work. It's a disappointingly short, easy read that seems to focus on following Shakespeare's plotline at the expense of developing the themes and characters and making it more her own. That said, it's an interesting story that anyone who's been a child in a playground will be able to relate to in one way or another. Her writing is sensitive and she carried me along enough to want to know how it all worked out in the payground setting. It's the next book group read for Book Swap, Durham and I've just read it as a sneaky preview. I'm looking forward to the eventual discussion as, writing style aside, there are lots of issues in there to be discussed.
I was unsure of the time setting for this story and the intended age of the audience. It would have been better if the reviewers' references to Iago had been omitted since the plot line of the story is given away almost from the beginning. We know how the plot is going to unfold, what Ian is going to do. This is a short read, uncomplicated, predictable. Quite unfairly I found the Americanisms throughout the text irritating: 'gotten' was used many times. This is a tale of racial prejudice, small town mentality, bigotry: the characters are almost caricatures. The story takes place over one day at school: it portrays hatred and fear of the different, unthinking intolerance and justification of violence. The motif is what it means to be the outsider, the alien, the stranger: it shows clearly the parochialism and narrow-mindedness of the host community. The ending holds little surprise: we know the tale is moving inexorably towards catastrophe: the precise details are immaterial.