By: Tracy Chevalier
Cleanliness (See “About” for scale): Disgusting (20+ curse words. Other content: racism, multiple mentions and descriptions of private parts, bullying, brief mention of cannibalism, and descriptive kissing.)
New Boy is an Othello retelling set in a 1970s elementary school. When I heard about the setting, I thought it would be really interesting. After I read it, I realized a 1970s elementary school just did not work for this story.
One thing that didn’t work for New Boy was that the whole book occurred in one day. I still can’t see how that much drama and romance happened so fast! It also meant that the characters were introduced in a rush. They had no depth at all, and you didn’t really have time to like them. Half of the story was building up to the climax, while the other half was only climax. It definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. I found most of it fairly boring, but maybe a die-hard Shakespeare fan would like it.
There were a couple things I liked about this book. It seemed to represent some of the struggles of an African American child in the 1970s well. It was definitely intense and sad. The chapters were another thing I really liked. Since the entire story occurred in one day, each of the chapters started a new time of day and also included some kind of childhood chant that was incorporated into that chapter. I thought that was a fairly unique and interesting way to do it.
The main thing that repulsed me about this story was how extremely the author sexualized children. Take a look at this quote: “She kept her mouth too tight for him to insert his tongue. ‘She’s done this before,’ Ian realized — a thought he did not like much.” What?! Did the author not realize her characters were just preteens? Yes, they have hormones and are getting to that age, but the extent that she took it to was too much. I didn’t feel like she took Othello and turned it into an elementary school. I felt like she took adult characters and pretended they were kids. That just doesn’t work.