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