Was it the marketing description of ‘Black Mirror-esque’ that made me pick up this YA thriller, or its supposed preoccupation with social media, free will and privacy? A few YA titles have been dropping through the post that are bouncing around this theme – social media, privacy and truth are hot topics right now. However, it’s also Rawsthorne’s gripping writing and her previous books that made me pick up The New Boy.
When Jack starts at Zoe’s school, everyone seemingly adores him. What’s not to like? He’s charming, handsome, outgoing, popular – as good with parents as he is with peers. So Zoe’s amazed, but flattered, when Jack chooses to date her. But as they become more involved, things feel slightly out of kilter. Is it her, or him? Can someone be that perfect?
This is an intriguing novel that dissects personality as well as technology. Which behaviours are helpful and which controlling, when is a person being manipulated? The book explores tension between using tech wisely as a force for good, and letting oneself be guided by it. It’s about control of ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Rawsthorne also explores social groups, peer pressure and relationships. In fact, it’s Zoe’s initial strength – her confidence with her individual image, her unwillingness to follow a crowd on social media that makes her stand out as a great protagonist, someone we want to identify with, and someone who is suspicious of anything out of the ordinary. But everyone has their weakness, and when Zoe’s is exploited, her boundaries and relationships begin to crumble. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, yet also thought-provoking look at how we can stay truthful to ourselves, but also fit in with society. I’m delighted to host Paula Rawsthorne dissecting true love:
Falling in love can be dangerous when you don’t know who’s pulling the strings.
The New Boy is a twisting psychological thriller and that makes it very hard to talk about the themes of the story as they only become clear once the reader has finished the book and discovered what it was really about.
However, I think it’s safe to say that one of the themes is about different understandings of romantic love. We may all think we know what it is, but if you ask a group of people you’d be surprised at the array of answers – it often seems that one person’s idea of romantic love would make another person run for the hills.
So, let me ask you, what does it take to fall in love with someone?
Does there have to be a chemistry between you? Do they have to be charming, thoughtful, full of romantic gestures? Do you want their undivided attention and adoration? Are shared interests and passions important? Should it be a meeting of minds as well as a physical attraction?
I’m sure that you could add your own ‘must-have’ factors to the above, including that ‘je ne sais quoi’ – that alluring, intangible element that seals the deal.
In The New Boy, everyone at Hinton Dale Sixth Form College is enamoured with the handsome, charming and clever, Jack Cartwright. However, romantically, Jack only has eyes for Zoe Littlewood.
Jack seems to provide Zoe with all of the essential factors for falling in love. He’s drop-dead gorgeous and full of romantic gestures. They have interests and passions in common, he’s generous, thoughtful, kind and even heroic. He’d go to any lengths to make her happy. He bolsters Zoe’s confidence and helps her with her studies. He even takes her to one of the most romantic locations in English Literature.
Anyone in Zoe’s shoes would be head-over-heels with Jack but, despite his perfection, it takes some time for his charms to work on Zoe as there’s something about Jack that unsettles her.
Maybe a contributing factor that bothers Zoe is Jack’s belief that the ultimate romantic lovers are Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights.
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Catherine Earnshaw in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
Whilst Jack considers Heathcliff and Catherine to be soul-mates who embody passionate, eternal love, Zoe sees a toxic, revengeful relationship that destroys the lives of the couple and others around them.
Zoe is also a fan of the Bronte sisters’ novels but, for her, it’s the relationship between Jane Eyre and Rochester that represents a healthier, stronger ‘romantic love’.
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you –and full as much heart! Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Sure, Rochester is far from perfect (SPOILER ALERT – even if he thought he was protecting his wife from an inhumane asylum, he did have her locked in the attic and was prepared to let Jane marry him in ignorance). But Zoe admires Jane’s strength of character and individualism (something that Zoe also possesses, not least for her decision to come off social media). Zoe considers Jane Eyre’s relationship with Rochester as, ultimately, a rather beautiful meeting of minds, bodies and souls and not the twisted love displayed in Wuthering Heights.
However, Jack seems to have a particular understanding of what constitutes true love and once he sets his sights on Zoe she soon realises just how hard it is to resist The New Boy.
With thanks to Paula for her intriguing post. You’ll have to read The New Boy to find out the twists and turns in this fast-paced, not always romantic, novel. You can buy a copy here.