Friday, February 8, 2019

New Kid

Image result for new kid jerry craft coverNew Kid
Jerry Craft
HarperCollins, 2019 249 pages
Grades 4-8
Graphic Novel

Jordan starts his seventh grade year as a new scholarship student at a prestigious New York City private school. He is scared about not fitting in and being one of the only kids of color at the school and of losing touch with his old neighborhood pals. Jordan would rather go to art school, where he could put his talent for cartooning to good use and find like-minded friends, yet his mother wants him to take advantage of the academic opportunities this new school has to offer. On the first day he is immediately paired up with a guide; a rich boy named Liam. Jordan meets all kind of kids, both nice, and not so, and encounters stereotyping and racism from both students and teachers, even well-meaning ones. As the school year trudges on, Jordan finds common ground with Liam and the two bond over a love of video games, even though Liam's socioeconomic situation is much different. He also befriends another scholarship student of color, who he has much in common with. Can Jordan be friends with both boys together or must he keep them separate? And how about his neighborhood friends? Can he maintain a relationship with them as well even if he is growing up and away? And how does he handle uncomfortable situations with his classmates and teachers? Middle school is confusing, but it seems as if Jordan has more to worry about than the average seventh grader.

Publishers are finally getting that message that boys like realistic problem comics as well as girls. I have nearly as many boys as girls ask me for Raina Telgemeier read-alikes. It is with great relief that we are finally getting some graphic memoir-type graphic novels featuring a male character, depicting what growing up can be for a boy. Craft offers the reader a very likable protagonist, fully drawn and developed, who faces not only the standard problems of starting a new school and making friends, but adds another dimension of race. Most of the fellow students are nice to Jordan, yet he feels set apart and from a different culture. One student is obnoxious, yet is insensitive to everyone and Jordan shows great moral fiber in reaching out the hand of friendship at the end of the story. The teachers are a bit more complicated as they struggle to overcome stereotypes and years of history at the school serving the privileged white. Uncomfortable situations arise, yet Jordan asks questions, gives people a chance and figures it out. The plot is great, tracing the school year, leaving room for a possible sequel featuring eighth grade. The drawings are in full color, except the black and white pages of Jordan's drawings, scan well, and add to the story. Some heavy issues are explored, yet Craft adds humor in places, which helps to lighten the story and keep it from becoming preachy. Less silly than other graphic novels aimed at this demographic, New Kid is a perfect choice for boys not quite ready for American Born Chinese or Hey, Kiddo. An enjoyable  and fresh book with something to say that will be happily read cover-to-cover by all who pick it up.

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