Sunday, June 11, 2017
New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare) by Tracy Chevalier is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, taking place over a single day in a 1970s schoolyard. The main characters are eleven-year-old students in suburban Washington, DC. I wanted to like this book since Othello is one of my favorite plays, but sadly, this version just doesn't work.
The main fault is the age of the characters--I was an eleven-year-old in the seventies, and maybe I was just sheltered, but the sexual nature of many scenes--mainly through the thoughts of the characters--just doesn't seem at all plausible for the time period. Many times, the thoughts of the characters are way too 'knowing' for that age, and not just regarding the sexual themes. The concept of having kids as the characters would have been more effective with a cast just a little older: upper middle school or high school. This created a huge stumbling block for me that just made me feel icky when reading certain parts to think of the characters as being young kids.
Many aspects of the book seemed spot-on, such as the underlying inequalities based on race, sex, and status. I also liked the clever transformation from Shakespeares version of the names and certain props. Unfortunately, there are too many things I dislike about this version to recommend it.
The publisher provided a review copy of New Boy.