The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

A Novel

Book - 2019
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In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.00As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."00In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.00The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, [2019]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780345804341
Characteristics: pages cm


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Hillsboro_ChrisK Jul 18, 2019

Whitehead’s novel takes place at a fictitious Florida reform school called The Nickel Academy. Nickel is based on the real-life Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which was a hellish torture prison masquerading as a reform schools that operated during from 1900 until 2011. The main character, Elwood Curtis, is sent to Nickel after he has accepted a ride in a stolen car. An archetypal goody two shoes, Elwood believes that his hard work and honesty will set him free.

While the story is based on the experiences of African American boys at the savage Dozier School, Nickel is a stand-in for American society at large. Elwood’s diligence and rule-following are not enough. The game is rigged against him and he must learn this difficult lesson while he negotiates the cruel and arbitrary world into which he has been thrust.

Whitehead’s writing reminds me a lot of the writing of Ralph Ellison. The world both writers create is nearly identical to the one I occupy, but it’s just a quarter turn off. I’m always taken a bit aback as events and people don’t quite behave the way I think they should. This disconcerting reality shift is what I imagine African American people must experience on a daily basis in American society: things are supposed to be a certain way, but that never seems to quite happen.

Jul 08, 2019

This new release by Colson Whitehead will break your heart and haunt your dreams. My mind was so engaged in the narrative that I was trying to solve the dysfunctions of Nickel in my sleep. The story of an American tragedy that should not be forgotten lest we be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

liljables Jul 03, 2019

Colson Whitehead is such a magnificent writer. I loved The Underground Railroad, but I know that novel had fantasy elements/twisted history that rubbed some readers the wrong way. If you enjoyed the writing more than the premise in his last novel (or if you straight-up devoured it like myself), The Nickel Boys should be on your list. What seems like a hopeful coming-of-age is torn asunder by a single, tragic act of profiling, changing the trajectory of Elwood Curtis's life forever. The major plot twist was completely unexpected, and it broke my heart.

debwalker Jun 12, 2019

Strong reviews for the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Underground Railroad.
Whitehead focuses on one young man's fate in the 1960s at a reform school called the Nickel Academy, based on the Florida Industrial School for Boys, where a secret mass grave was found after its 2011 closure. The "infinite brotherhood of broken boys".

May 21, 2019


LPL_PolliK May 03, 2019

Colson Whitehead delivers another stellar novel, and this one is a heartbreaker. "Nickel Boys" is an emotionally intense, spare, and compelling historical fiction that is based on a true story. Elwood is an idealistic black boy carving out the brightest future he's able in the Jim Crow south when a tragic circumstance sends him to Nickel Academy, a "reform school" that is a chaotic, unfathomable chamber of horrors. There Elwood meets the streetwise Turner, and as their friendship grows their fates become entwined. Whitehead weaves a non-linear exploration of Elwood's life, capturing the atmosphere of the south in the 1960s and New York in the 80s into today. Look for Whitehead to garner more awards with this incredible book.


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