New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – Book Review

I was both shocked and delighted when Penguin (the publishers) contacted me about doing a review of this book. As some of you may know my Kindle is my dearest companion on all my travels. New Boy was published on May 11th, 2017 so as a relatively new book I am very excited by this opportunity.

New Boy’s (affiliate link) synopsis reads “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.”

Since this book is a rework of Shakespeare’s Othello you already have an expectation of what is going to happen. Tracy Chevalier does a good at job at remaining true to the original Shakespearean themes whilst modernising the story and translating it to a school setting. Osei is the “New Boy” is the son of a Ghanaian diplomat who has to navigate not only the usual challenges of being the new kid at the end of the school year but also being the only black person in the entire school. Ian takes the role of a new age Iago and acts as the catalyst to the tragedy which ensues. The characters mirror those in the original play and the themes remain the same. Love, lust, betrayal and manipulation are central to this modern day drama.

(Affiliate Link)

At times the themes seem a bit too adult for character’s who are meant to be 11 years old. Particularly, the themes of lust and love which are just as prominent in this novel as they are in the original story. The characters’ behaviours and thought patterns also seemed very mature, which fit in well with the story but are not entirely realistic. The action is set over one school day which also seems a bit too fast past paced for the children to fall in love, be heartbroken and the climactic tragedy to unfold. 

Although the story did adhere strongly to Shakespeare’s original I feel it deviated just enough to keep it interesting and enjoyable. Tracy Chevalier switches seamlessly between the narratives of each of the characters allowing the reader to experience the story from different perspectives.

Overall, I would recommend this book as it is an enjoyable read and is another good adaptation of Othello. The themes and racial tensions are just as relevant reading this in the 21st century and as a black woman it really resonated with me. The book may have been written for a younger audience but like Harry Potter, adults can also enjoy it easily.


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