At first, that setting might sound infantile for the adult machinations of Shakespeare’s play, but give it a moment, and the anachronisms of this mash-up start to feel oddly appropriate. 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 hopscotch 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 ... Of course, Othello works better, but that’s inevitable. Shakespeare’s highly stylized language accommodates equally artificial actions on the stage, while that harmony is thrown out of whack in Chevalier’s novel. Her realistic prose and naturalistic characters eventually clash with the melodrama that overtakes the plot. But by that time, the story of O has reached such a disturbing pitch that you can’t do anything but stand stock still in the sand and watch this poor boy’s life crash.
In another context those metaphors might induce a cringe, but here they are a clever re-creation of a childlike perspective. However, the language of possession and desire feels overly dramatic here. Such vocabulary might be appropriate to use for high school seniors, but it’s impossible to forget that these are just 11-year-olds ... 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 ... For all the parallels to the plot of Othello, this is an engrossing and ultimately convincing story of its own, with characters you’ll believe in and a tragic ending worthy of the Bard.
Like Othello, New Boy is very much the story of the betrayer; Ian’s playground machinations as he plots to use Rod’s desire for Dee to break up the friendship between her and the new boy are a basic transplanting of Iago’s deceptions in the original. Granted, there are some interesting innovations...But in the end, I found it difficult to believe that I was reading the true lives of 11-year-olds. Setting the action over a single day telescopes the drama in a way that is perhaps too concentrated for a novel; too often the language, in dialogue and in the rendering of the children’s internal thoughts, takes on the distinct intonations of adult conversation ... My wish, as I read Chevalier’s ambitious novel, was for a more radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. I wanted to believe absolutely in these characters without necessary reference to their originals. New Boy’s direct transfer of the play from stage to page does not allow for a full development of the characters who are summoned into being.