New Boy: Othello Retold

Tracy Chevalier

New Boy: Othello Retold
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New Boy: Othello Retold

Tracy Chevalier

She noticed him before anyone else.

Arriving at his fourth school in six years, 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 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practise a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers.

Watching 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.

Review

In October 2015, the Hogarth Shakespeare project was launched, with the idea that the most acclaimed and bestselling novelists of the day would retell the works of Shakespeare. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, the latest instalment, is a retelling of Othello. Having read and enjoyed several of Chevalier’s novels, I was naturally excited to be given the opportunity to review this one and I have to say she has produced yet another great read.

It’s the 1970s, and a new boy arrives at a suburban Washington school. Being the new kid is always difficult, but for Osei Kokote it is even more so – not only is he the new boy, he is also the only black boy in an all-white school. Amidst the murmurs of curiosity and the subtle hints of racism, Osei manages to find a friend and ally in Dee, the most popular girl in school. As their friendship blossoms, not everyone approves: Ian, who could accurately be described as the school bully, actively sets out to destroy the relationship. Osei and Dee are blissfully unaware of the thoughts and feelings their relationship provokes in others, or the tragic events that will unfold as a result.

Although the story takes place over just one school day, Chevalier manages to capture all the tension, jealousy, misplaced trust and tragedy that makes Othello such a classic tale. The character of Ian (Iago), as the school bully, is especially well portrayed – with spine-tingling accuracy. Chevalier’s writing vividly invites us to imagine the way the other students avoid him, and how the atmosphere changes when he enters a room. If you haven’t read Tracy Chevalier or any of the other Hogarth series titles, I highly recommend New Boy as a good place to start!


Sharon Peterson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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