Bingo 8: Picture This
Since the book club book I’m thinking I want to start with is part 2 of a series, I figured I’d get a hold of book one first. Somehow, I’d forgotten that New Kid was a graphic novel, so it fits in just fine for Bingo. Turns out the main character want to be a drawer of pictures, so it double works.
I was a little unsure about this one before starting it because it was more of a middle grade book and I sometimes feel a little too old for those, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. It’s real enough, but also has plenty of somewhat predictable coming of age school story standards. Jordan is the titular new kid at a fancy private school, which he’s not totally happy about since he’s one of only a few kids of color and he really wanted to go to art school, not private high achiever type school.
Jordan faces a lot of the expected obstacles: making friends with mostly white classmates, dealing with micro-aggressions (and some less micro), uncertainties about his family’s economic status versus most of his classmates, finding his crowd, dealing with the school weirdo, a heart to heart with an elder that gives new perspective on his struggles, the inevitable cafeteria face-off with the school bully, and trying to balance his new life with his old one. Even though this sounds like almost every new kid at school story ever, telling it from the perspective of a kid who has the smarts to realize some of the more ‘subtle’ (but not really) socio-economic and racial tensions, like when a fellow student doesn’t understand the ‘joke’ of hearing one of the other African American students called “Maury-O”; Jordan doesn’t openly explain what being called an Oreo means, but iykyk. I really liked this about the story overall. It’s up to you to notice not just what’s going on but why or how it might be meaningful to Jordan who documents and lets out his observations and feelings in his sketchbook, some excerpts of which we get to see.
The other interesting thing is that Jordan is not necessarily the recipient of some of the key insults or attacks or misconceptions, but he is an observer who knows and understands what they do mean. When a well-meaning teacher offers Maury a book at the book fair because she thinks he’ll identify with a gritty urban realism underdog struggle story, he points out “Thanks, Miss Brickner but my dad’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” Next panel: a slightly befuddled Miss Brickner then calls to another student of color (presumably to see if he’d be interested in the book). There’s another teacher who gets more presence than Miss Brickner, and her name once we learn it (her first name that is) is another one of those hidden but not really jokes but it’s not exactly a joke either.
I really enjoyed this story and the characters, which is where a lot of the originality and entertainment comes in. One of Jordan’s new classmates, Liam, who is white, is sensitive about his status but not sure how to express it beyond asking Jordan constantly to “Don’t judge me, ok?” There’s a good bit of standard trope to Liam in some ways but we also don’t’ get some of the details that you’d expect. Again, it’s the filling in or knowing or guessing that really adds to reading the story. I’d be willing to bet this is one of those stories where everyone can get something out of it, but not necessarily the same something. And that’s not a bad thing.