New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
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.
This novel is listed on Netgalley as general adult fiction; I think it could be easily incorporated into the YA genre also. It could actually prove very educational to young adults to the dangers of racism, bullying and prejudice. It would also highlight to the younger generation, how far we have come in terms of, the socially acceptable racism of the past etc.
This an interpretation of Othello, set in 1970’s suburban Washington DC. It centres around several students, as they ‘welcome’ new boy Osei Kokote. Osei aka O (Osie meaning Noble) is a young student whose father is an international diplomat. He is starting his 4th school in 6 years, due to moving around various locations. Despite being born in the 1980’s myself, I felt the novel had a very childhood feel to it. Young people, coming of age that was until the plot becomes more and more established.
Osei, Dee, Ian and Mimi are young students, trying to make sense of teir lives and the hierarchy of the education system. It is only Osei as the only black student at the school who is exposed to prejudice, casual racist comments and assumptions due to the colour of his skin. The assumptions really hit home to me. The assumption that he is poor as he is from Ghana; not only is Ghana the second wealthiest country in Africa, it is rich, in terms of culture. Also the age old typical stereotype that a young black man is essentially a criminal or violent in some way! With all this stacked against him, Osei has quite the first day to navigate!
Dee however is quite sweet on Osei and asks about Ghana out of genuine interest. She enjoys and embraces Osei regardless of his colour or heritage. However, a casual moment of affection is misinterpreted by a teacher whom assumes that Dee needs ‘saving’ from Osei. This scene really upset me; the assumption that a young black man is a terrible danger to a young white woman was reminiscent of the Emmett Till case. The racism that a young black male ‘must know his place’ is possibly one of thee, single most damaging attitudes and has impacted young black men to the present day!
One young man not happy with the alliance and blossoming romance between Dee and Osei is Ian. Ian is a scheming bully who sets in turn a motion of events with the intention to break up Dee and Osei. Fuelled by jealousy and set on a path, Ian manipulates all the students; building to a catastrophic ending!
Hugely recommend this novel to young adults and adults. I hope this novel is able to gain some support from education settings. It would be very beneficial to young minds and a great source of debate and discussion. 4*
New Boy is released today, 11th May 2017 🙂
*I received an Ebook arce via Netgalley, in return for an honest review.