My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Osei (O-say-ee) is the new kid at the school. He has no affiliations to fall back on, no long term friendships that have been there always. He is new and stands out like a neon light. It is around the 1970’s in Washington DC. Osei has been to three other schools before this one, being the son of a diplomat from Ghana, living in places such as London and New York. He is polite and even a little formal in his conversation with Dee, the girl chosen to ‘look after him’ on this first day at school. From the start there is a special connection between the blonde, blue eyed girl and the dark black eyed boy. People around them sense the connection and either jealous or repulsed by it. In the space of one school day they will swing from intimacy to loathing at the instigation of the school yard bully. And we go from the beginning of friendship to horror in the playground.
This is a modern day take on Shakespeare’s play Othello, full of misunderstandings, treachery and love. The age of the children involved is around twelve years of age, with all the melodrama that goes with being a preteen. Refrains from childhood songs litter the story, reminding the reader that this drama is taking place in a school. The piece is snappy and sharp. It moves briskly along. Allegiances are made and broken in the blink of an eye. Somehow Chevalier is able to maintain the innocence of childhood along with the filth of adolescence.
Confronting, shocking and full of grief, this book will leave a mark on the modern reader who is too young to know of such open racism. The only problem I had with this book was the age range of the children. Perhaps it is my age showing, or my lack of memory for the age itself, but I had a hard time believing these were twelve year olds. Undoubtedly I was a know it all at that age, but I had a good dose of innocence too, and it hard to read about children so calculating, although I do remember the rumours and stories about different kids and what they were doing. Maybe this isn’t so far-fetched as I wish it was.