By Annie Brulatour
Twelve-year-old Jordan Banks loves art and wants to go to art school so that he can grow up to be an artist. However, his parents think he will have a better chance at success in a private school. Now Jordan is the new kid at Riverdale Academy Day School, miles away from his neighborhood and anywhere else he would actually like to be. His first few days confirm his worst fears. His new school is full of wealthy kids from wealthy families, and the majority of the school is white. He notices some patterns at his new school that bother him. Teachers confuse him with the only other black kids in their class, a bully who manages to get away with everything, and many other unsettling things. Eventually, Jordan establishes a routine and even makes a few friends. Now he’s torn between fitting in at this new place and still belonging in his neighborhood community. His old friends don’t understand this new environment, and his new friends don’t know much about his neighborhood. He still isn’t sure about this new school, but he’s willing to try.
New Kid is a great, everyday story of how hard it is to adapt to new places, especially when you don’t quite fit in. While it is not driven by any one big overarching moral or goal, students will find themselves relating to the daily struggle of surviving middle school. It is also a vivid graphic novel - featuring comics and notes from the main character himself - and would perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier or Svetlana Chmakova.
Additionally, New Kid is a truly exceptional read due to the portrayal of daily experiences with racism and classism. Jordan is only twelve, yet he faces an incredible number of realistic and nuanced issues. A black student is labeled as aggressive for calling out a teacher for her racist behavior. The school librarian recommends fantasy and sci-fi for his white classmates, while Jordan is repeatedly offered books with “gritty, urban themes.” His friend Maury gets lumped in discussions about the "poor" kids because he is black, even though his dad runs a Fortune 500 company. The more time Jordan spends at school, the more frustrated he gets. Jerry Craft does a phenomenal job balancing the serious with the lighthearted, while letting the reader know that what Jordan goes through is common, and that it is not okay.