The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys is a fictional story centered around the real Dozier School, a reform school for boys in Florida.

In 1960’s Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis is working towards his future. Kept on the right path by his Grandmother, Elwood is planning to enroll in a nearby Black College. When Elwood finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy.

While Nickel Academy is said to be a place that makes ‘young men honorable and honest’, this is not the truth of what happens. Elwood finds him in a situation that could only be compared to his worst nightmares. The boys of Nickel Academy are beaten and abused by the staff. If you make trouble, you disappear.

Elwood befriends a boy names Turner who finds Elwood to be naïve to the ways of the world. Turner feels the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. The boy’s while opposite in their thinking, make a decision together that changes their world forever.

You know how when you are reading a good book you can lose yourself in it? Sink right down and feel all cozy immersed in this other world?

This is not that book.

The Nickel Boys at times is devastating. Made even more so by the fact that you are reading historical fiction, and while Elwood and Turner and the others within the book are fictional – the school, in fact, is not. This is a book I listened to mostly on audio, however I feel strongly that I will be going through at least part of this again in my print copy.

Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. 

Colson Whitehead is a powerful writer. The book is beautifully written, narrative heavy, and while it clearly is not a cozy blanket and cup of tea kind of read, it is hard and real and makes you want to turn the pages to know what is going to happen. Whitehead is also the author of The Underground Railroad, a soon to be Amazon Prime series. This book won Whitehead the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

This is a book I highly recommend. Not only so you get a little idea of the Dozier school, which I highly recommend if you have not read about you do, you read a powerful story about friendship and loss of freedom. Named by Time Magazine as one of the best books of the decade.

We read and discussed this with Books Burgers and Brews and it was a very interesting and engaging discussion.

8 thoughts on “The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

  1. When I read this I kept reminding myself that it’s based on a real school and I just got so angry. I agree that the book is very well done and well worth reading.

  2. While reading this book, I thought it was interesting but just “okay,” but I changed my mind upon finishing it. I think the ending of this book is what really made it; otherwise, it would have been just kinda “meh” for me.

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