Review: New Kid
I heard Colby Sharp call The New Kid the best graphic novel (so far) of 2019. And I agree. Yes, 2019 is young and there will be many books out there, but this is a title that resonates on many levels. If readers want to keep it simple and just enjoy the story, they can, but it also offers much fodder for discussion.
By Jerry Craft
Grades 4 and up
Jordan is starting 6th grade at an elite private school called Riverdale Academy Day School (RAD). He’d rather be going to an art school, but his mom won’t agree. The school pairs him up with a guide, another student named Liam. Unlike Jordan, Liam is a legacy student: His grandfather, father, and siblings have all attended the school. It’s hard enough being the new kid, but most of the kids at RAD are white. There are a host of supporting characters, including Maury, one of the few black students enrolled in school, and Drew, the other new kid in school. There are typical characters like the bullies and jerks and students who try so hard.
In this poignant story, Craft takes a deep look at race and presents it in a way that makes it accessible to young readers and gives them a place to talk. The most disturbing character is Ms. Rawle, who sadly cannot see her own extreme bias. There is also the institutional bias and the prejudice of the other students that surface throughout the story.
There is a lot happening in the story. While Jordan’s experience in school is central, there are secondary plots that will also pull readers in. Jordan feels torn between his old friends and his new friends. He’s torn between art and the school he’s in. He’s torn between his own financial reality and that of the people around him. Even though there is an obvious divide between Liam and Jordan, race and class, Craft immediately shows that the boys do have much in common.
While the story is wonderful, the reason this book is so powerful is the vibrant artwork. The illustrations are fresh. The coloring pops off the page. The bits of humor that Craft uses to move the story along really bring the story over the top. When Jordan says: “Lunch was fun… I could have really done without Andy,” the panel shows Jordan scraping a tiny Andy off his lunch plate and into the food scraps. Jordan’s own art journal, with his take on his experiences and surroundings, also adds to the humor. The comedy Craft uses in the artwork softens the deep overtones of the story. I suspect come December, when all the best-of lists come out, this book will be mentioned over and over again.
Filed under: Graphic Novels, Reviews
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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