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New Kid

Review

New Kid

Poignant, quirky and insightful, Jerry Craft’s graphic novel NEW KID is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a thoughtful and creative young boy named Jordan, and his struggle to fit in. Craft explores tough themes like privilege, bias and racism through his big-hearted protagonist for a story that is as heartfelt as it is powerful.

Jordan, who loves to draw cartoons about his life, is entering the seventh grade at a new school --- a preparatory private middle school towns away from his own neighborhood and friends. That’s not all: Jordan will also be coming from a diverse school to one where he is one of the only students of color. The change of scenery leads to a series of new interactions, friendships and life lessons that our dear protagonist is ill-prepared for, but he comes out stronger for it. Told in a graphic novel format interspersed with Jordan’s own drawings, NEW KID centers primarily around Jordan learning to navigate through a world of primarily white privilege and upper class learning having come from a lower middle class area and seeing the differences between the two, and also sometimes the similarities.

"Craft explores tough themes like privilege, bias and racism through his big-hearted protagonist for a story that is as heartfelt as it is powerful."

Early on, the micro-aggressions and passive aggressive acts of racism become immediately apparent. For example, Jordan has to contend with a teacher who mixes up names between him and another black student who looks nothing like him. This other student tends to occasionally act up and behave more playfully and even disruptively, but this same teacher projects her feelings about that student onto Jordan. Readers will immediately sympathize with Jordan, who feels too young to have to deal with these sorts of feelings, but is, in fact, a prime example of the world our children are growing up in.

At the same time, a “cool kid” named Andy in Jordan’s class thinks it’s funny to mock other students based around their heritage and doesn’t see how his actions are racist. He introduces himself by first asking Jordan what sport he plays and immediately asks “And what are you anyway?” in reference to Jordan’s racial background. Throughout it all, Jordan is forced to contend with an environment that is supposed to be “better” for him, even while its inhabitants are passive-aggressively and openly rude to him and his heritage.

It may sound like the easiest solution would be for Jordan to return home to Washington Heights and his old school, but as time goes on, Jordan has a tough time fitting in with his old friends, too. The educational resource divide between private and public schools sets him apart from everything and everyone he has known, and Jordan starts to feel like he does not fit in anywhere. In a particularly poignant moment, Jordan is forced to recognize his own biases and confront them --- in a beautiful move by Craft, Jordan uses this moment to stand up as a leader, and he begins to call out the injustices he sees.

Craft’s art is fantastic --- he intertwines pop culture and his own art in very fun ways, referencing popular movies in each chapter. Jordan’s own art allows us to see his internal monologues and the ways the outside world is really affecting him. Together, Craft’s and “Jordan’s” art combine to make a book that is visually fun, and not just based on its complex themes.

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, NEW KID is a painfully timely and wonderfully honest graphic novel about tough themes like diversity, racism and the struggle all kids feel to fit in. This is a book that will start conversations in middle schools all over the country --- about how we can recognize our own biases, start to break them down and ultimately create a better world for our youth.

Reviewed by Matthew Burbridge on February 26, 2019

New Kid
by Jerry Craft