New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
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.