It’s hard being the new kid in school. I remember the first time I saw my late girlfriend, sitting 10-15 feet away a few rows below me in the auditorium during a first day assembly. She was sitting leaning to the right and as I watched her, she looked so alone. And there took some time for adjusting at my school. Tina Fey may never had attended Calhoun High School, but anyone who graduated from there saw Means Girls as a documentary.
New Kid, the Newbery Award-winning graphic novel by Jerry Craft, looks at being the new kid from so many angles of honesty, you wonder why so many schools don’t want it on the shelves. Jordan Banks is no different from any other 12-year-old boy. He loves playing video games and he loves to draw. But Jordan is black and from Washington Heights in New York City. He deals with normal growing pains by drawing about his life and those around him in a comical somewhat self-depreciating mannaer. He dreams of going to art school.
His mother gets him enrolled in Riverdale Academy Day School, a private school for privileged students where the teachers make a special note of pointing out who’s on financial aid. It also has very few other black students and the teachers are often confusing the black students. Even though there are black faculty and staff, they’re confused as well with one being confused constantly with Coach Rick.
A white privileged student, Liam Landers, becomes Jordan’s guide but over time, they become friend as Liam, who is a legacy at RAD as it’s called, isn’t too thrilled about his roots. Other students at the school include Drew Ellis, another black student, who is not as shy and reserved as Jordan when it comes to dealing with socio-economic and racial issues. There’s also Alexandria, an eccentric girl who wears sock puppets on her left hand, but we later find out it’s to cover up something she’s ashamed of.
Then, there’s Andy Peterson, the jock who thinks he’s the big man on campus because he plays sports and his family is wealthy or shows off their wealth. And the faculty are more willing to look the other way when Andy is being a jerk, which is constantly. Andy doesn’t see that other students don’t like him and a confrontation between him and Drew tests what students are willing to say to someone in authority.
The book goes through the motions of his first year at school starting with his awkward first day up with more homework than usual until Jordan finds himself wearing the more preppy clothes Liam got him by the last day of school. Anyone who’s ever been the new kid in a new place will see how difficult it is for Jordan to try to make new friends and keep his current friends, who he may not see much anymore.
Craft took inspiration from his own use, basing RAD on Ethical Culture Fieldston School where he went to school. He also grew up in Washington Heights and was also inspired by his own sons’ experiences as they went to school. It received a lot of praise and good reviews, becoming the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal.
However, it found itself at the center of the critical race theory debate even though Craft has said he had no idea about that when he was writing the book. The Katy, Texas school district removed it following an organization by parents who said the book does promote CRT and a foolish Texas law that forbids teaching the idea that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” This means because the novel focuses on racial tensions, it can’t be taught. Another school in Pennyslvania tried to remove it but that was overturned.
If anything else, it should make more people want to read it. Check it out at your local library if they have it available.
What do you think? Please comment.