Review Blog

Feb 24 2016

New boy by Nick Earls

cover image

Penguin, 2015. ISBN 978114330839 3
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. South Africa, Isolation, Language, Change, Bullying, Racism. Herschelle has read all he can about Australia and in particular the differences in the language to his home in South Africa. He thinks he has it all covered, but makes mistakes from the minute he steps into his new school in Brisbane. He notices differences too: the lack of security, the sea of white faces looking at him, the efforts by the teacher to help him fit in, the nerd he is given as a buddy to show him around the first day.
With nods to They're a weird mob (Culotta, 1957) Herschelle's attempts at using Australian words and phrases learnt from the web are embarrassingly funny, causing hilarity amongst his peers when he uses phrases he has read, and he has equal difficulty in understanding them.
The language references will cause laughter amongst the readers, but the story of his fitting in is one most will recognise as a sometimes tortuous experience. And behind the problems his family encounters, with Dad working at a mining camp miles away, are hints of what happened in South Africa to make them move to Australia.
Herschelle is targeted by a group of bullies, their leader taking personal interest in him because of his accent. When his mother invites his buddy, Max and his family to a barbecue, she serves some South African food, but this causes further embarrassment at school, with Max bullied into giving them some ammunition, until finally Herschelle and the bully come to blows.
A resolution of the problems occurs with Herschelle giving a talk about his home town to the class, and when an opportunity is given to include the bully in their game of handball, he accepts.
This is a story which reflects the concerns of every child moving school, but compounded when Herschelle looks and sounds the same but his accent is something to be derided. A wonderful twist sees Herschelle and Max being buddies to a new boy in school the following term, a refugee from Somalia.
The book has layers of interest to hold the reader: not only an engrossing story of fitting in, of being accepted, but one of bullying, of difference, of racism and prejudice.
The reasons the family left South Africa leads the author to explain the path that country is taking to heal the wounds of Apartheid, and readers will be shocked by the differences Herschelle sees in Australia. A nice contrast too is evoked when he skypes his friend back home. And the food Mum prepared was so interesting that I needed the internet.
I think this book would make a great class set for upper primary groups, introducing racism and bullying as topics to discuss, reviewing what happened in South Africa under Apartheid, the efforts made to end it and its legacy in the twenty first century.
Nick Earls gives a fascinating explanation of just how his own experience as a new boy from Northern Ireland led to the writing of this book, another level of interest which an astute teacher could use with a class.
Fran Knight

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