Yes, you read that correctly: Othello on the Playground! In New Boy , the latest and quite possibly the greatest in the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, famed author Tracy Chevalier transforms the Shakespearean tragedy into an elementary school saga, rife with nostalgia and heartbreak. Chevalier expands upon the themes of Othello- racism, jealousy, and revenge, to name a few- from the perspective of a group of 1970’s sixth graders.
Osei Kokote has found himself, once again, in the unfortunate position of new boy, a position he is all too familiar with, being the son of a traveling diplomat. But beyond the normal anxieties involved with leaving behind friends, family, and all that is familiar, Osei must deal with being the only student of color at his new school in Washington, D.C. Having been through the arduous process before, he assesses the group of kids spread out on the playground before him, makes various assumptions and predictions, and then begins to plan his survival, in the way of alliances, avoidances, and sheer luck.
I thoroughly enjoyed New Boy , despite being hesitant of the age group focused upon. I’m not a huge YA reader and feared I wouldn’t connect, but Chevalier does a beautiful job of slowing time way down and capturing the magic of fleeting youth. The delights and triumphs, the failures and despair are all chronicled from the viewpoints of the young characters who are just enough like Shakespeare’s cast to identify but possess a wholeness all their own. I highly recommend adding this to your collection of literary fiction and I look forward to the next work Hogarth Shakespeare puts forth.
*- I received a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.