[Book Picks for Every Weekend of Summer] "Tracy Chevalier's highly readable and immaculately researched historical fiction this time takes place in 1970s Washington D.C., at an integrated school. Chevalier grew up in that environment; this book, though fictional, is a powerful exploration of betrayal and bullying – and casual racisim."

"Filtered through the lens of adolescents the story works perfectly ... Every action in this fishbowl takes on an extra level of intensity and whole social systems rise and fall over the course of a lunch hour." ... "Chevalier gives us a story that is timely and engaging, a novel that is well worth reading in its own right, no matter its lineage." Read more

"The school's calculatedly malevolent Ian is a mixture of public civility and private rage, the achievement being that, as in Shakespeare's play, his real motivation might be sexual jealousy, racial prejudice, Schadenfreude or a malign combination of all three. The strawberry-spotted handkerchief is ingeniously reworked as a strawberry-encrusted pencil case, although the novel is more than just an intertextual jigsaw: a free-standing and compelling tragic thriller in its own right." Read more

"Like Othello, Osei moves in a white world that doesn't really want him ... Unlike Othello, he has never sought to triumph, to justify himself with magnificence, which he grasps will simply cause resentment." ... "Sisa, Osei's older sister, represents a better way: she knows that Black is Beautiful and her African heritage a thing to glory in. It's thoughtfully done, and shows all the craft one would expect from the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring." Read more

"Chevalier's novel does an admirable job of prompting readers to look backwards to Shakespeare's original material, and forward to the lessons that 1970s-era school children might still teach us about the state of race relations in the US today." Read more

"The depth of connection between the original and this new work is astonishing ... It is clean and clever and emotionally charged, filled with moments that reflect perfectly the source material while never straying from the truths of the new setting." Read more

"A powerful, disquieting retelling of Othello that falls squarely in the hits column." ... "Chevalier frames the story within the charged political context around African American power and identity ... I like that [she] drew upon her own experience of being an outsider as a white girl at a school with mostly black students." Read more

"Having taught grade school aged children, I understand that some serious drama can unfold on the playground and Chevalier uses this to weave a story surrounding jealousy, bullying, young love and betrayal. I felt like this was a brilliant retelling [of Othello] and would love to see this incorporated into classrooms ... it would be amazing to have youth actually connecting to themes in Shakespeare without being bogged down by the language." Read more

"Though perhaps less violent than the end of Shakespeare's play, New Boy's climax is nonetheless tragic. Tragedy has its cathartic value, of course, and in the case of the retelling, readers have the additional satisfaction of seeing the clever ways Chevalier transposes the plot of Othello onto a middle class setting." Read more

"Jump rope rhymes, jungle gyms, kickball games ... and a typical cafeteria meal of Salisbury steak and tater tots: it's impressive how Ms. Chevalier takes these ordinary elements and transforms them into symbols of a complex hierarchy and shifting loyalties. Most remarkable, though, is how the novel explores the psyche of a boy isolated by racial difference." Read more

"The school playground is a place for testing boundaries, and Chevalier is in her element, evoking its conflicts and tensions. Ian (the novel's Iago) sees the playground as his "domain" and resents Osei. The playground starts to seethe with corrosive jealousy." Read more

"One would hope that New Boy will one day be plopped down onto the desks of students as they whine and gripe over having to read their annual Shakespeare play in English class. This is the perfect answer to the constant student question – why do we have to read this old thing? – and it is proof of the usual teacher response – because it is still relevant." Read more

"Chevalier is at her best when describing the tenderness of young love or conveying the inner thoughts of her protagonists." ... "transposing this story to the playground makes absolute sense ... It is of interest as an excercise in illustrating the universality of the original, and works equally well as a standalone piece which tells of a tightly wound, intimately imagined situation hurtling towards inevitable tragedy." Read more

"... a deft examination of the accommodations a boy such as Osei must make wherever he goes. Even at his tender age, he is aware that his very being evokes fear, sometimes even disgust." ... "Chevalier is delicate in her description of the emotional and mental cost of all this careful avoidance." Read more

"How Chevalier renders Iago's scheme into the terms of a modern-day playground provides some wicked delight. She's immensely inventive about it all, substituting, for instance, a pencil case decorated with strawberries for the handkerchief that Othello gives Desdemona ... Even the play's fierce sexual energy finds an appropriate correspondence among these adolescents storming through puberty." Read more

"The gravity of Osei's situation may not seem as profound as Othello's, but Chevalier manages to turn this story into a true tragedy ... "New Boy" will appeal to adult Shakespeare lovers and to young adults who may only know Shakespeare because of a couple of teenage lovers in Verona." Read more

"New Boy, with its angsty teenagers, racial frictions and a magnificently fleshed out antagonist, is a tense and tight read ... a heady rollercoaster of emotions, right to the breathless and shocking last line." Read more

"Chevalier's drama centres on "what it means to be an outsider". To add urgency to an everyday story of high-school bullying, she compresses the action into the cycle of a school day ... It's a clever strategy, executed with typical aplomb." Read more

"I'm an English teacher and this makes me want to teach Othello (along with this book) ... PERFECT for teaching ... The politics of teachers, recess, the principal, where you sit, the cafeteria (oy!) Yup, that's the stage for this re-telling and it works. It sooooo works." Read more

Superbly entrancing Chevalier (At the Edge of the Orchard, 2016) is the latest prominent writer to contribute to the scintillating Hogarth Shakespeare series of provocative ontemporary retellings of the Bard’s works, including Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (2016). With breathtaking urgency, Chevalier brings Othello to a 1970s suburban elementary school outside Washington, D.C., where the playground is as rife with poisonous intrigue as any monarch’s court. Into this rigidly hierarchical fiefdom steps the new boy, who is not only a stranger, but also the only black student. While children and adults alike gape at him with dismay and worse, Osei Kokote, a diplomat’s son from Ghana, who has been through this before, methodically reviews his survival strategies. But pure love ignites at first sight between Osei and Dee, the golden girl, and their impulsive touch shoots a veritable lightning bolt through the school’s collective psyche. Scheming bully Ian promptly instigates a chain reaction of lies, bribes, threats, betrayals, and assaults that leaves everyone scorched. Chevalier’s brilliantly concentrated and galvanizing improvisation thoroughly exposes the malignancy and tragedy of racism, sexism, jealousy, and fear.

Donna Seaman