Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Let me start by saying this is my first book review. Excluding any reviews or essays I wrote for school, I mean. I hope that this will be helpful to you!
In my book reviews, I would like to highlight the storytelling abilities of the author, consider the impact of the art style if any, and evaluate how well the book does what it sets out to do.
I will do this for books written for a variety of audiences and ages.
Just as a precaution before you delve in – in the end, my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.
I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if reading the book is worthwhile or if it sounds like its the book for you. For example, if it’s a well-written horror book, I will give it a good rating even though I personally dislike the horror genre.
If you happen to disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to describe your point of view in the comments.
Now, for the real review.
First, a little background.
The graphic novel New Kid by Jerry Craft won the 2020 Newbery Medal as well as a host of other awards, and was added to many distinguished lists. It is about the everyday life of an African American seventh grader named Jordan Banks. He starts the school year at a new prestigious school with low diversity, where he has difficulties fitting in.
Now I will list the Pros and Cons of the book before going into greater detail.
- Achieves its original purpose
- Strong message
- Complex main character
- Thoughtful title that changes meaning throughout the story
- Creative chapter titles
- Distinct artistic style
- Well-established setting
- The art style was unappealing, at least for me
- Occasional build-up of tension, but low stakes
- Slow pace
My overall experience with this book was very good. It does exactly what it sets out to do – depict the experience of an African American boy trying to fit in at a new school despite its low level of diversity.
From looking at what others have posted about it, it seems to somewhat accurately depict the experiences African Americans have had with microaggressions and racism. Some have said that what Jordan Banks experienced was much milder than their own experiences. Others empathized with his experiences and related similar experiences of their own. Overall, reactions to this have been mixed but generally positive.
Part of the message was that anyone who makes assumptions about another person because of their color of their skin is being racist. Seems obvious, but that was only part of the message.
But Craft had the further, very important message that it is racist regardless of one’s intentions. Some of the people who were racist in this graphic novel were malicious, but most were just ignorant and thoughtless. (The instances of racism were still really cringey, and I believe ignorance is no excuse.) Furthermore, it is crucial to note that these offhand, thoughtless comments caused just as much harm to the main character as the malicious ones.
Another part of the message is that there is not enough representation of people of color and minorities in literature, at least not of the right kind. The writer actually used examples of what kind of literature is being marketed to black teens to highlight his point.
That was what I perceived as his message.
Complex Main Character
On the one hand, Jordan was deeply hurt by the microaggressions and racism he and his friends experienced. On the other, he was reluctant to retaliate, and struggled to find his own voice in opposition to racism.
He also feels torn because he feels that his friends from school and those from the neighborhood are somehow incompatible.
He is an artistic boy with profound ideas that come out in his drawings. For example, he wants to be like Batman, but not just because Batman is a hero, but because Batman lives two lives and manages to fit in perfectly with both.
The title, “New Kid” seems to refer to both Jordan’s experience as the new kid at school and how he becomes a “new kid” as his experiences change his perspective.
Creative Chapter Titles
The chapter titles are puns based on movie titles. Hilarious!
Distinctive art style
Craft definitely has a style that is uniquely his own. It doesn’t look average, and the style is consistently applied.
Unlike some books, which have trouble establishing the setting, this one had no problems because the setting was depicted visually with detail. The main settings are the school and the neighborhood. The school seems large and sprawling, and generally impressive. The neighborhood, where it seems many of the inhabitants know each other by name, is shown less but is still a big part of Jordan’s life.
Unappealing art style
The art style simply wasn’t for me. That being said, I’m sure there are others who adore it.
For one thing, the positions characters were in seemed unnatural at times. And not just where it had an obvious purpose such as emphasizing a character trait or emotion.
The tension was pretty low most of the time because Jordan is pretty laid-back about most stuff, and is unwilling to do anything that might jeopardize his ability to fit in (most of the time!)
A possible source of tension could be that he wants to go to art school but his parents are forcing him to go to a different school. This is a small source of tension, but Jordan barely argues the point.
When faced with microaggressions and racism, he typically shrugs it off or just complains about it later with his friends. I’m not saying that I think he should make a big scene – just that his responses keep the tension very low for most of the book.
The stakes are low – will he or will he not fit in? But he quickly makes good friends near the beginning of the book, so that lowers the stakes.
With low stakes and low tension, not much excitement is raised in this book. The climax is more like a bump in the road than a critical moment, even though it does signal a turning point. That being said, his story is still interesting, impactful, and worthwhile.
It may be because the tension is kept low, but the pace seems slow at times. This is because it is showing the everyday life of a seventh grader. Even the less interesting moments. The beginning took awhile to get into until it felt like the story really began and I was hooked.
I would certainly recommend this book, especially for middle school and junior high students, because I think they will identify with Jordan’s struggles to fit in and I think that not enough books are on English syllabi that have African American protagonists.
The poet Horace said that “the aim of the poet is to inform or delight,” and I believe that applies to writers in general. New Kid does both skillfully.
If you like my content, subscribe to my newsletter!