Genre: Contemporary fiction/Hogarth Shakespeare.
Shortest summary ever: in case you didn’t know, This is Hogarth Shakespeare, a retelling of Othello by modern authors and I’m officially a fan. It’s been a while since I’ve read Othello, but as I recall there’s a slew of incidents of Iago being a troublemaker and master manipulator with Othello being the somewhat innocent gullible, unaware of Iago’s trickery and hijinks. The setting is now a 6th grade class with a new Ghanaian classmate, Osei (who is black), who has set everything a-titter. Well, the white folks are doing that to themselves, and thus enters the issue of race compounded by the 1970’s black-empowerment movement setting. Popular Dee befriends Osei which ignites a fire in classmate Ian (Iago) who sets out to destroy Osei merely for his own amusement. Thus what usually happens in Shakespearean plays.
What’s good under the hood: I’m an English teacher and this makes me want to teach Othello (along with this book) sooooooo bad. This setting is one of my favorite parts and also, based on other reviews, one that’s hotly contested which means – PERFECT for teaching as the kids will likely have their viewpoints on that as well. Othello has much to do about who is (or really isn’t) sleeping with whom and I wasn’t sure how that would translate to 6th grade, but it worked virtually spot-on.
Think back to the stupidity of that age (probably more middle school for me) and how everything is this big production of who is “going out” with whom. Hearing words like “slut” and pretending you’re all bad and cool and know what it is (I totally didn’t). 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 soooooo works. It’s like we tell the kids, the language is the toughest part but the STORY, the themes – love, hate, jealousy, revenge, etc., are and forever will be universal. I wish the ratings on this were much higher, but any time there is a re-telling many will have issues. I thought it was BRILLIANTLY done. Adjustments HAVE to be made for the setting, which is kind of the point. Why would I want to hear the same story of Othello in a similar adult-ish environment with little change? I love that Chevalier took a risk through change.
What’s bad or made me mad: I made a few notations that some thoughts of these eleven year-olds, particularly the sadistic (sociopathic) Ian were more advanced than they would typically be of the age group, but since it’s rare to actually encounter someone with this pathology, I could be wrong (and that’s freakin’ scary).
- Teachers of Shakespeare (like me) who struggle inspiring kids with the boring ol’ bard.
- Those who enjoy creative writing exercises like these.
Do Not Recommend to: Shakespearean purists who like it AS they like it (pun intended).
Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing and the author for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review and oodles of teaching inspiration!!