New Boy is a retelling of Othello. The characters in New Boy are 6th-grade students at an all-white public elementary school in Washington, D.C., in 1974. Osei, or simply O, is the son of a diplomat from Ghana, who has changed schools a number of times in his short school career. So he knows what it is like to be both the “new boy,” and the only black student on campus. The action of the entire novel is compressed into a single school day. I won’t say any more about the plot. If you know the play, you know it already; if you don’t, I won’t spoil it for you.
I love Shakespeare’s Othello, and the whole time I was reading New Boy, I was mentally linking all of the characters and scenes between the contemporary version and the original, and that clearly increased my enjoyment of the novel. And while I can’t be sure, because I do know Othello, I’m reasonably certain that the novel would be just as compelling for someone who doesn’t already know the play upon which it is based. It’s a dramatic story, reimagined wonderfully by Tracy Chevalier (one of my long-time favorite novelists), and it is presented so clearly from the different characters’ perspectives that it illuminates all of the play’s central themes: racial tension, forbidden love, jealousy, betrayal, deceit, and destruction.
Whether you know the Shakespeare play or not, you are going to enjoy reading New Boy. But knowing the backdrop of Othello will only enhance your experience. I cannot wait to read the other Hogarth Shakespeare titles, and I sincerely hope they go beyond the eight titles listed on their site.