Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The New Boy by Nick Earls

New Boy, The by Nick Earls
Published March 2015 Puffin Books

Adjusting to a new country and a new school was never going to be easy for Herschelle. The food is strange, it's so different to South Africa and, worst of all, no-one understands the Aussie slang he's learnt on the web.

But it's the similarities that make things really hard. Herschelle will have to confront racism, bullying and his own past before Australia can feel like home . . .

When I think of the stories I have read about families immigrating to Australia they are often from Asian countries, Like Anh Do’s Happiest Refugee or Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem.  This story tells of a family that have white skin and come from a country where English is spoken, so moving to Australia should be a piece of cake?

Hershelle‘s family come from South Africa, where their house was surrounded by a wall topped with barbed wire, and a guard patrolled the neighbourhood to protect them from machete wielding criminals.

It’s a rare book that is equal parts funny and poignant, but this one manages it.  You can’t help but laugh at Herschelle’s early attempts at speaking ‘Australian’, like when he explains in Science class that pitch’s rate of flow is ‘bloody slow’, thinking bloody was an acceptable term for ‘very’.  He also struggles with words like sandshoes (takkies), and a phrase like ‘the fan’s cactus/carked it/gone bung’ (broken). There’s also the uncomfortable incident when Herschelle’s mother is told to ‘bring a plate’ to a school event.

The book also show us what racism looks like, and it’s a surprise to the characters in this book.  Here’s a quote from the book where Herschelle and Lachlan are in the principal’s office for fighting:

‘Boys, I’m not sure you realise how serious this is.  This is bullying, but it’s also racism.’
Lachlan’s mouth gapes open.  I try to stop mine doing the same.  I don’t point out that I’m white, in case that spoils it.
‘No, sir, it wasn’t meant to be…’ Ethan says.  ‘It was just a joke, and it’s not like he’s, you know…black or anything.  We’re not racists.’

The principal then goes on to explain:

‘You have targeted Hereschelle because he is South African, ‘ Mr Browning says. ‘You have targeted him because of his nationality.  Because he sounds different.  That’s racism. ‘ (page 120)
I really liked this book.  It will be popular with readers, and it will also be a great book to look at in the classroom.



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