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One of our most successful historical novelists transplants the tragedy of Othello to a playground in 1970s Washington D.C. : when a young black boy arrives at an all-white school, he finds himself at the centre of a web of jealousy, bullying and revenge.

'O felt her presence behind him like a fire at his back.'

Arriving at his fourth school in six years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s’ suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practise a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Watching over the shoulders of four 11-year-olds – Osei, Dee, Ian and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi – Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

Reviews

High school, with its crushes, insecurities and politics, works as the perfect backdrop to Shakespeare's original plot... New Boy, with its angsty teenagers, racial frictions and a magnificently fleshed out antagonist, is a tense and tight read... It can be read in a single afternoon and it really is a heady rollercoaster of emotions, right to the breathless and shocking last line

Tanya Sweeney, Irish Independent

This is a compact and intense read full of twists, turns and intrigue. The fast-moving shifting allegiances and rivalries that dominate the playground provide a backdrop full of heightened emotion that cleverly reflects the atmosphere of the original play

Mernie Gilmore, Daily Express

Chevalier is at her best when describing the tenderness of young love or conveying the inner thoughts of her protagonists ... Chevalier deftly and succinctly gives [her characters] all more of a backstory than Shakespeare ever allowed ... transposing this story to the playground makes absolute sense. It is of interest as an exercise 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

Kirsty McLuckie, Scotland on Sunday

What Chevalier has done is recast the play to illuminate the peculiar trials of our era... a fascinating exercise ... In Chevalier's handling, the insidious manipulations of Othello translate smoothly to the dynamics of a sixth-grade playground, with all its skinned-knee passions and hop-scotch rules ... 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

Ron Charles, Washington Post

Chevalier’s modern interpretation of Othello deftly explores race relations in the schoolyard in 1970s suburban Washington, and captures how it feels to be an outsider

Anita Sethi, i, 2017 Books of the Year

Othello as a Seventies schoolyard drama? Yes, it works marvellously. The emotions of emerging adolescence are a potent brew, with friendships, rivalries, budding sexuality, and the desire to fit in combining unflinchingly with the racism of the teachers (and some of the pupils). This is an evocative retelling of Shakespeare, and his characters’ interactions and motivations fit surprisingly well into the brutal world of childhood

Joanne Harris

Powerful and intriguing

Deidre O'Brien, Sunday Mirror

To add urgency to an everyday story of high-school bullying, [Chevalier] compresses the action into the cycle of a school day. It's a clever strategy, executed with typical aplomb by the gifted author of Girl With a Pearl Earring... Her New Boy is an often inspired riff on adolescence and alienation

Robert McCrum, The Observer

New Boy is in the tradition of movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You or West Side Story, or Toni Morrison's play Desdemona ... A deft examination of the accommodations a boy such as Osei must make wherever he goes ... Chevalier is delicate in her description of the emotional and mental cost of all this careful avoidance

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, The Guardian

Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling

MumsNet

It is undoubtedly a real page turner

Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide

The tightness of Chevalier’s version is admirable… She is careful to make this a book full of movement and observation… The plot works terrifying well in a playground. Fifteen-year-olds are brutal, especially fired by the conflicting aches and desires of puberty… Prior knowledge of Othello’s ending makes the final act, played out over monkey bars on a jungle gym, all the worse: such adult consequences to the actions of those so young makes the outcome breathtakingly sad

Alice Hancock, Times Literary Supplement

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Extract

Dee noticed him before anyone else. She was glad of that, held on to it. It made her feel special to have him to herself for a few seconds, before the world around them skipped a beat and did not recover for the rest of the day.

The playground was busy before school. Enough children had arrived early that games of jacks and kickball and hopscotch had begun, to be abandoned when the bell rang. Dee herself had not been early— her mother had sent her upstairs to change her top for something looser, saying Dee had spilled egg on it, though Dee herself couldn’t see any yolk. She’d had to run part of the way to school, braids thumping against her back, until the stream of students heading the same direction reassured her she was not late. She had gotten to the playground with a minute to spare before the first bell rang.

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