NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller 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.
As 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."
In 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.
The 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.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven 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.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This is an incredibly well-written book. The pace was beautiful, the narrative n and point of view switches were seamless. I always enjoy tales that involve well-done fact/fiction such as this. Another notch on the belt for Mr. Whitehead.
The Nickel Boys
Interesting, informative story based on real events. But I could not get into the writing style.
A chilling account of racism and abuse of humanity
These people will stay with me for long after I’ve finished the book. I read the book from start to finish without putting it down. At times, I found my hand on my heart and it was racing over the terrifying life these young children were forced to endure at the hands of incredibly evil and criminal autho