New Kid

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Book Review

In New Kid by Jerry Craft, Jordan Banks starts middle school at a wealthy academy that has few other African-Americans. He strives to fit in while encountering ignorance and prejudice.

Plot Summary

In this graphic novel, Jordan Banks is an African-American seventh grader from Washington Heights in New York. Not only is he just starting his middle school career, but his parents have enrolled him at a wealthy private academy called Riverdale. He doesn’t know anyone there, and all but a handful of the students and staff are white.

Jordan feels the pressure to change his persona even on the bus ride from his side of town to Riverdale. He quickly discovers his classmates and teachers have many stereotypes when it comes to people of color. A few kids are overtly rude, but most people are simply ignorant or thoughtless. Bullies nickname an African-American boy from a wealthy family “Oreo,” because they meanly say “he’s Black outside and white inside.”

Other kids assume a Nicaraguan boy is Mexican. Some students stereotypically presuppose that Black children all like basketball and fried chicken, and that they’re being raised by single mothers. Teachers accidentally mix up Black students’ names, as though they can’t tell the difference between them. An administrator even does this to an African-American teacher he’s known for fourteen years.

Another teacher tries so hard to practice ethnic sensitivity that he can hardly say a word without apologizing for his potentially racist remarks. Jordan and his new friend, Drew, feel embarrassed whenever their status as financial aid recipients is mentioned. At a book fair, the librarian proudly directs Jordan and Drew to the historical African-American literature section she’s set up just for them. She doesn’t understand they like the same contemporary novels their white peers read.

After attending a school meeting, Jordan’s parents tell him they understand some of his dilemmas. His mother, who works for a magazine where she’s one of the few African-Americans, says she’s had to learn to “play the game.” Jordan’s dad left a similar career because he didn’t like having to deal with racial inequity and didn’t feel he should have to.

Jordan’s dad grapples with inadequacy after dropping Jordan at the mansion of his wealthy white friend, Liam. Liam gives Jordan an expensive Christmas gift. Jordan hides it from his parents so they won’t feel bad about their less-expensive presents.

Jordan sometimes struggles to stay connected with his neighborhood friends. They deal with problems such as kids bringing guns to school. Jordan’s classmates are only concerned about their next exotic vacations.

As time passes, Jordan finds ways to connect with both his old and new friends. His art teacher opens his eyes to new painting techniques at which he thrives. He demonstrates kindness to misfit students and a bully who has harassed him for months. At the end of the year, Jordan tells his parents that he has become a new kid.

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

None.

Authority Roles

Jordan’s parents try to give him opportunities to see beyond life in his own neighborhood. Dad struggles with feelings of inadequacy when he can’t offer Jordan the luxuries his classmates enjoy. Some school staff members make little effort to see beyond color with their black students and employees. Other white teachers try too hard to appear racially open-minded to the point of making things awkward.

Profanity & Violence

None.

Sexual Content

None.

Discussion Topics

What are some of the new and challenging experiences Jordan faces all at once? When have you attended a new school, moved to a different town or began a new activity? What were you feeling during this time? What helped you get through it?

Why do you think some of the teachers and students treat Jordan and Drew so differently than the white students? Are these individuals mean on purpose, or do they just fail to understand people of other races? Explain your answer. What are some practical ways you can be sensitive and respectful to people from different cultures or backgrounds?

When have you become friends with someone of a different race, nationality or social class? What did you learn as you got to know them?

Why is Jordan nice to Andy in the end, even though the bully has been mean to him all year? How does the Bible tell us we should treat our enemies? When have you shown kindness to an enemy?

How does Jordan change during the course of his bus rides from home to school? When have you felt the need change your personality to fit in with different groups of people? Why did you think you had to act like someone else in these circumstances?

Additional Comments

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected]. Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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