Title: New Boy
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Literary Fiction / Retelling
Rating: 4 of 5
This retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello drives home the pettiness of those involved by setting the action mostly on a school playground with a cast of 6th Graders. The action takes place over a single day in the late 1970’s when Osei, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, joins an all-white school with only a month left in the school year.
The author tells the story in the third person, constantly shifting point of view to follow the thoughts of Osei (Othello), Dee (Desdemona), Ian (Iago), and Mimi (Emilia). This exploration of each character’s thoughts and motivations is what makes this book worth reading. Mimi/Emilia’s characterization was probably the most interesting since she has rather muddled motivation in the original play.
I appreciate that the author didn’t make the story purely about racism as some people try to do with Othello. Racism is certainly a big component, but Ian/Iago’s issue has more to do with jealousy (over influence, popularity, power, etc.) than race – his racial prejudice just increases the vehemence of his jealousy/hatred.
There were a couple things that kept me from giving this five stars. The main issue was that sometimes when the author changed perspective she retold the exact same events over again. In the first section of the book she does this four times; I suppose the intention was to set the stage, but it was more tedious than clever. The other thing that bugged me was the too-detailed description of Ian and Mimi making out/grinding. Yes, I understand that it was establishing Ian’s skeezy take-what-I-want character, but ew!
Overall, this was an interesting, thoughtful retelling that I would definitely recommend to fans of the Bard.