New School. New Life. New Boy.

Julian Houston. New Boy. Boston Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

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With New Boy, Julian Houston presents readers with a story that leaves everything up to our imagination. Fifteen year old Rob Garret has just been accepted into an all-white boarding school located in Connecticut. Being born and raised in a segregated south, Rob is sure to have his doubts about the entire idea of integration as he sees all of the failures that his friends and family endures as they try to fight for equality. Houston presents us with a young man who is beginning to come into his own and develop his own philosophies, and it all begins with his stay at Draper School. Throughout the text, readers are presented with several situations that may still be relevant today’s more integrated society. Rob finds friends, love, a reason to fight, and most of all the passion for change.

Rob Garret is an intelligent African American with the opportunity to get the best education that he possibly can, while making head-way with the segregation issues going on at the time. Rob encounters different situations that encourage to speak out for the things that he truly believes in. One such event was after a Jazz club with his friend Gordon Burns, where they see the driver for the Burns family with a few Muslims and Rob encounters the radical side of the integration movement. Another come with the conversations that he has with his Aunt Gwen about the position of the African American people as a whole. She says:

“Look at these youngsters around Harlem spending all of their time with each other, and most of them aren’t going anywhere. When they’re around the Whites they clam right up. The colored kids only talk to each other, and half the time you can’t even understand what they’re saying. And if they do talk to a White person, is usually a police officer or someone telling them what to do. They don’t have any idea what it means to talk to a white person as an equal, much less one sitting at a diner table next to you. I know it’s worse in the South, but this is not Paradise. If you want to amount to anything today, you have to broaden your reach.” (Houston 77).

Rob sees her words, and other small events as an eye-opener to the many things that are suppressing African Americans. It makes sense that when he hears about a sit-in going on in Virginia, his hometown, he is eager to stand up for the Civil Rights cause. His interactions with the students at Draper School, diverse opinions about how African Americans should proceed to be truly free, and the talks with his Aunt and younger African Americans his age allowed Rob to see the vast difference between the south and the north. It was not right to have partial freedom as they did in the north, nor have no rights whatsoever in the south. Blacks needed, and deserved to be free.

Dangerous as it may be, Rob believes that change is inevitable and makes it his point to try to be a part of it, not just for himself but for a better future for all generations. New Boy is the story of a young man’s mental, physical, and emotional journey to fight through oppression of African Americans.

Advice for Teachers

New Boy is a great book to use as a tool in demonstrating inequality of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement as well as discrimination among individuals of the same race. While schools with the majority of students being African American might be able to better relate with Rob Garrett, schools with majority white students would also benefit from reading New Boy. This book allows the reader to see through the eyes of Rob as he is discriminated against and enables him/her to feel what he feels. Here are a few activities to help students better understand the book:
  1. Have students act as characters from the book and have other students question them. The student acting will have to think, act, and respond as though they are actually the character. This will help the students gain a better understanding of the types of characters from the book and why they did or said certain things in the book.
  2. Conduct a writing prompt in which students should recall a time when they felt out of place or ostracized among others. This will help to realize how Rob felt when he went to a new school as the only African American. It will also help students to understand the bigger picture of the Civil Rights Movement and the inequalities that African Americans faced.
  3. Guide a discussion based on the difference in discrimination Rob experiences and the discrimination his friend, Vinnie, experiences. Students will begin to understand how bullying is a form of discrimination and happens among people of the same race as well as those of different races. While Rob experiences little to no inequality at Draper, Vinnie is constantly bullied and even segregated to a different living area. Also, have them discuss how Rob experiences discrimination from other African Americans when he returns to Virgina, his hometown.
  4. Have students draw what they imagine the characters from New Boy to looks like as well as likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses of the character. This will give students a better image of the character and his/her personality.

The Author of New Boy, Julian Houston
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Julian Houston was born in Richmond, Virginia. He was educated in public schools in Virginia and later in Connecticut. He attended Boston University. Houston was a community organizer in Harlem during the Civil Rights Movement. Houston's interest in writing fiction began when he became a judge, but did not begin writing until after working with a teacherin the late 1990's. Today, Houston is an associate justice of the superior court of Massachusetts and lives with his wife and family in Brookline.

Houston based his first novel, New Boy on real life. In New Boy, he writes about figures including Malcom X. Houston has actually met several members of the Nation of Islam, including Malcom X. Houston grew up during the civil rights movement and this novel reflects his life experiences and shows readers what it was like to live in a segregated community.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

The following movie trailer was created by a group of students and does a good job of representing the underlying theme in New Boy of the segregation that Rob Garett finds is still an existing reality back home, in the south. The movie also displays real footage of segregation from the 1950's and the protests and marches in which the African-Americans partook.

Additional Resources:
10-15 links pointing to credible and relevant information about the author, the work, its critical reception, or the teaching of it. You may further categorize these with subheadings. Each link should have a brief tag describing the resource, as in:
  • New Boy Review - The New York Times Review of this powerful story of New Boy where they relate Rob's character to that of Joe Louis.
  • Interview with Julian Houston - New York Times Interviews Julian Houston. The interview explains how New Boy actually reflects many personal events with segregation and Civil Rights that Houston experienced.
  • Houston's Accomplishments after writing Julian Houston became the first African-American to serve on the Superior Court of Massachusetts.
  • Civil Rights Movement Video Actual Footage from the Civil Rights Movement which also shows some of the ultimate, brutal treatment towards African-Americans during this time.
  • Rosa Parks Interview Rob makes reference to Rosa Parks in the story when he is tempted to refuse to move to the back of the train.
  • Official Joe Louis site There are several references made about Joe Louis in New Boy. Joe Louis is an inspiration to many African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Civil Rights Lesson Plan How to make the topic of segregation laws and other unjust laws applicable to the classroom.
  • Extensive Lesson Plan on Discrimination This lesson plan gets students to thinking both concretely and abstractly about discrimination and how this treatment affects our society today.
  • Video on Bullying Psychologist, Dr. J Carter speaks about bullying and its mental affects. We also a theme of bullying in New Boy that is relevant to others who are viewed as 'different'.
  • Segregation in the Classroom Students investigate and reflect on how society has changed, and what struggles we still face.

-- Devonte Baldwin, Karlye Byrnes, Mariah Farkas, and Emily Mayer

Other Reviews by This Group:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower