New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
My Rating: 3/5
Release Date: 16 May 2017
On an elementary school yard in Civil Rights-era white suburbia, Shakespeare’s “Othello” plays out. Osei, an Ghanaian immigrant, prepares himself for yet another first day at an exclusively white school. He bonds instantly with Dee, their chemistry palpable to all. This causes a stir and Ian, school bully and sociopath, makes it his goal to punish them for their interracial friendship/romance by the end of the day.
While this story is well-written and well-conceived it is a difficult recommendation. As with all Shakespearean tragedies reality must be suspended to account for the lightning speed at which a series of life-altering events occur and the reader must prepare for the often one-dimensional characterization of the supporting cast. Told in five acts, the conceptualization of “Othello” as a playground drama is clever. But cleverness is difficult to appreciate outside an extensive knowledge of the play. Without the play to hold up the storyline I believe the tale would collapse on itself. I would highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, theater folk, and those indulgent of both. I suspect it will not stand up as well for those less familiar with the play; this is not a dig at the reader but rather an observation for an author who is writing for the Hogarth Shakespeare project. This is an important note to make for anyone planning to read the book, so forgive my slight divergence. Hogarth Shakespeare project is an excellent initiative in which stellar authors reinterpret Shakespeare’s classics in novel form. This project is ideal for a classroom that is reading whichever Shakespeare play is being interpreted. However, it is necessary to clearly equate this novel to that project, rather than reading it as a stand alone.