cover image New Boy

New Boy

Tracy Chevalier. Random/Hogarth, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-553-44763-7

The latest in Hogarth’s Shakespeare series finds Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring) relocating Othello to Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s, where sixth grader Osei, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, faces his first morning at a new elementary school, his fourth in six years. The day starts well, as Osei meets popular girl Dee and the pair fall head over heels in love. But seeing the school’s only black boy woo a white girl is too much for Ian, a schoolyard bully, and he hatches a plan to ruin their blossoming relationship. Ian drags others into his manipulations, and by the end of the school day, hearts are broken and tragedy strikes the normally placid schoolyard. Chevalier smartly uses her narrative as an opportunity to spin a story commenting on racism in America, and while she weaves Shakespeare’s narrative arc into her novel by bouncing between characters’ experiences, the final result is only moderately effective. By compressing everything into one morning and afternoon, Chevalier rushes some action, and while the reader may recognize how children tend to amplify emotions, moments are occasionally difficult to believe. (May)