In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers and “should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation's best" (Entertainment Weekly).
Look for Colson Whitehead’s new novel, Harlem Shuffle!
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Elwood, the stubbornly optimistic protagonist of The Nickel Boys, serves as our fictional entry point into a real Jim Crow–era Florida school that tortured thousands of adolescents, some to the point of death. An unfortunate set of circumstances brings Elwood to the school, and he discovers that the more he tries to play by his abusers’ ever-changing rules, the farther he gets from the finish. Colson Whitehead’s storytelling is as vivid and disturbing as this look at historical injustice requires, and his turns of phrase stay with you as much as the tragedies that befall his characters.
"As it had ever been with Nickel, no one believed them until someone else said it," Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) writes in the present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel. Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel's upstanding reputation in the community, the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys especially the black boys suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner's struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood's adult life, showing how the physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead's brilliant examination of America's history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight.
The Nickel Boys scary and suspenseful
I have been interested in the tales of the big juvenile “school” that was here in Florida decades ago. The truth is tragic but the author conveyed the inhumanity which was inflicted on these boys for decades. I appreciate the references and links noted for additional information. I really do want to read of how the archeological dig progressed.
The Nickel Boys
Sad but true.
Very great read in this day and age
The book drew me in from the first chapter to the last. It was a great read and I loved it. Not only does it highlight racism and problems with reform institutions back then but also in today’s modern reform institutions. It was an easy and refreshing read; I’d recommend it to a sixth grader... there’s not too much hard vocabulary and the author is clear and concise. Also has a great twist in it... a shocker!