New Boy

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Tracy Che­va­lier (Hog­a­rth Shake­speare, £12.99)

In New Boy, Tracy Che­va­lier trans­ports Othello to an el­e­men­tary school in 1970s sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton DC. It is the most re­cent ad­di­tion to the ‘Hog­a­rth Shake­speare’ se­ries, for which some of to­day’s lit­er­ary lu­mi­nar­ies have reimag­ined the Bard’s plays as nov­els.

The new boy of the ti­tle is Osei, or ‘O’, the son of a Ghana­ian diplo­mat, who ar­rives at an oth­er­wise all-white school. He im­me­di­ately falls for teacher’s pet Dee and gives her his sis­ter’s pen­cil case —Miss Che­va­lier’s equiv­a­lent of Shake­speare’s in­crim­i­nat­ing handkerchief. Ian, the school bully, spins lies cen­tring on the pen­cil case and pop­u­lar Cas­par, which turn O against Dee un­til he feels like ‘the black sheep, with a black mark against his name. Black­balled. Black­mailed. Black­listed. Black­hearted. It was a black day’. The school play­ground—with chil­dren jump­ing rope, play­ing kick­ball, climb­ing the jun­gle gym —be­comes the scene of tragedy.

Jump­ing rope, kick­ball, jun­gle gym: 1970s Amer­ica is wo­ven into the fab­ric of the book, felt in de­tails such as Roberta Flack on the ra­dio, a Dixie Rid­dle cup dis­penser, a teacher who fought in Viet­nam and O’s sis­ter sign­ing off her phonecalls with ‘Black is Beau­ti­ful’. Par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis is placed on this be­ing a cru­cial time and place for the Civil Rights move­ment, thereby giv­ing an old story a pow­er­ful new res­o­nance.

The cast of 11-year-old char­ac­ters holds plenty of ap­peal for school read­ers, which is when most of us first en­counter the orig­i­nal play, and rein­tro­duces the more sea­soned of us to the com­plex­ity of play­ground pol­i­tics: ‘His fa­ther might be the diplo­mat in the fam­ily, but Osei too was a diplo­mat of sorts, dis­play­ing his skills at each new school.’

Above all, New Boy is a chill­ing re­minder that the cru­elty of pre-teen life can feel as des­per­ate as Shake­spearean tragedy. Emily Rhodes

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.