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New Boy    by Tracy Chevalier order for
New Boy
by Tracy Chevalier
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2017 (2017)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tracy Chevalier (well known for historical novels like Girl with a Pearl Earring and Falling Angels) writes with heart and empathy, presenting characters who could easily walk off her pages and into real life. She does that again in New Boy, a contemporary retelling of Othello.

The action takes place during one day in a suburban Washington school in the 1970s. The Moor of the piece is young Osei Kokote, son of a diplomat from Ghana, whose parents seem totally out of touch with the problems their constant relocation have caused him. He's in his fourth school in six years, always standing out as foreign and dark-skinned. Previously his elder sister Sisi had often had his back. At the very least, he could share being a picked on outsider with her. But this time, she insisted on finishing the school year in New York.

The tale begins and ends on O's first day at his new school. Dee (the school's queen bee, but with no meanness to her) notices him right away, and their attraction is immediate and mutual. When their teacher assigns Dee to show O the ropes, she's happy to do it, despite snide comments from her classmates. The manipulative class bully watches them both closely - 'Ian would always notice anyone new who stepped into his territory' - and decides to re-assert his power over the others once again.

Ian uses Dee's friend Mimi to create a situation that makes O jealous of Dee's feelings for Casper (who is really just a friend to her). Events escalate into violence, which brings out prejudice and racism in teachers as well as students. The author does a fine job of morphing Othello into a YA context, while also making readers feel for all the damaged souls involved.

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