Book Review: New Boy

New Boy (2017)
Tracy Chevalier

In this modern retelling of Othello, set in a 1970s Washington, D.C. schoolyard, a single day changes the characters for their entire lives.

Osei “O” Kokote is the son of a diplomat from Ghana. He is the only African American at his new school. Surrounded by white kids who have been shaped by the racism of their parents, teachers, and culture, O finds an unexpected ally in Dee, the golden girl of her sixth grade class. The two form an immediate attachment to one another, falling madly in love before the lunch bell rings. But Ian, a jealous, vindictive boy, decides he cannot let the relationship between O and Dee stand. Enlisting the unwitting help of his girlfriend and Dee’s best friend, Mimi, Ian conspires to ruin O and Dee’s friendship for good.

The narrative takes place over just one school day-a tricky timeline to accommodate so much psychological turmoil and plot development. But Chevalier pulls it off, perfectly capturing the intense emotions of sixth grade children. In just a few hours, the characters experience love, desire, envy, greed, hate, and fear. (Anyone who remembers their own childhood can attest to how easy it was to fall in and out of love from one recess to the next.) The tension is increased by the racial prejudices motivating many of the characters.

By the end of the day, every major player has been turned inside out and upside down. In many ways, this one day is an irrevocable end of childhood for the characters. The ending is merciless, and stuck with me for days after I finished this book. For such a short novel, this story packs an emotional punch that won’t soon be forgotten by readers.

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Review by Shannon Bowring, Technical Services

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