The Nickel Boys

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 23 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

Thoroughly enjoyed this heartbreaking and rage-inducing novel. I consider Colson Whitehead to be one of our modern great American novelists.
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Whitehead's writing is phenomenal. That he is able to pack such a punch in just over 200 pages, shows off what he's capable of.
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A riveting novel by master storyteller Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys shares the unlucky tale of Elwood, a boy born into the civil rights movement, who works hard and strives to make a better life for himself. However, when a series of unfortunate mishaps lands him in a jail-like reform school, he will discover what freedom and forgiveness truly mean.

I enjoyed the way the story was crafted. It opens with anthropologists excavating a graveyard and trying to uncover the secrets left by the now defunct school. Although fictional, it is told in an academic manner, as though reporting on real events. The horrors and atrocities that unfold, may turn the reader's stomach, but ultimately, inspire a message of hope. 

I was fortunate to receive a free ARC of this book from Netgalley. The above thoughts, insights, or recommendations are my own meek musings.
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Tough, but really meaningful and moving read. It was hard to read at times but I’m so glad I kept going. I’ve recommended this book to almost everyone I know!
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Somehow slighter than expected, but packs a punch. The response seems to indicate something more major than this feels, but highly recommended regardless.
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I hate to compare this book to anything else but I couldn't stop thinking about IT, Stand By Me, and Shawshank. I mean this as a compliment in that as an adult I can't help but admit that Stephen King's work has had an effect on me and potentially the whole American psyche. With Underground Railroad and this book, I feel that Whitehead has done this in the same way, taking something painfully real, adding a touch of magic, and offering something nostalgic, relatable, thought-provoking, and fulfilling. I hope Whitehead continues to make great books because I now see him as an indelible American storyteller.
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The Nickel Boys is the story of one black boy's time spent incarcerated at a fictional - based on a real - reformatory school in Florida in the 1960's. Sentenced for a crime he was not guilty of, Elwood is forced to endure brutal beatings and mistreatment along with a cast of other students who have been broken by the institution. 

The violence recounted by the book is a necessity. I wouldn't call it graphic, but it is inherent at the school. The students in the black school at Nickel are subject to racial violence and sexual assault. The boys who were lucky enough to survive Nickel have an assortment of traumas. Never allowed a normal life after what they endure. It's, terrifyingly, the perfect illustration of how institutional racism and violence destabilize generations of people.

While I thought that Elwood's narrative was engaging and often brilliantly written, something in the pacing here was uneven and rushed. Maybe it's because I'm a huge fan of Whitehead's Underground Railroad, but it didn't feel like it got the time it needed. Really a minor quibble though, for an otherwise spectacular novel.
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I found this a surprisingly fast read. It's interesting but does not live up the the great reviews I saw about it. I think Whitehead had a plan and fit the characters into it. Yes, horrible things happen, but I felt strangely outside of the characters and their experiences. And the ending was a let down. I felt like is that it? During the course of the book he makes some very valid points about how racism has corrupted America. Maybe this should have been a work of non-fiction.
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This is the second book of Whitehead's that I read after The Underground Railroad. I enjoyed this one much more than the last book. The Nickel Boys is a good work of fiction inspired by real events. It's very readable and I zoomed through it, although at times I was confused about certain storylines and characters. Having read this novel I'm now really interested in learning more about the Dozier School and the young men who lived and suffered there.
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What can I say about the Nickel Boys? This was another book club selection, so I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own. It certainly wasn't bad, but I think I expected more from it. I never read The Underground Railroad, but due to how monumentally well received it was, I had high expectations for this one. 

Whitehead is a talented writer--there's no doubt about that. His descriptions are amazing, his dialogue is on point, and his plots are interesting and compelling. He deserves every accolade he has received. I think my main issue with this novel is its scope. It's a very short book--only around 250 pages--and Whitehead tries to cover a lot of ground and a truly dizzying number of characters. 

Our main characters are Ellwood and Tucker, and of the two Elwood is significantly more fleshed out. Both boys are sent to the Nickel Academy which is a segregated reform school in Florida during Jim Crow. It's as abysmal as you can imagine and Whitehead doesn't skimp on the misery (rightly so imo). The novel brings up many interesting ideas, but isn't long enough to flesh them out. There are so many characters, so many events and perspectives and circumstances, that it can be very difficult to keep everything straight. I wish the book had had either a tighter focus on Ellwood, or that it had been at least twice as long. There is plenty for Whitehead to explore at the Nickel Academy, and I wish I had gotten a meatier experience. 

Overall not a bad read, and certainly an important novel for this day and age, although maybe not the best pick for a first Whitehead read. It's easy to forget Jim Crow occurred within living memory and a stark, firm reminder of that fact is never a bad thing.
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A tough book to read but worth the effort. Based on the true story of bodies found on the grounds of a reform school. Brutal and heartbreaking.
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I liked this book, but I think Whitehead's writing style isn't quite for me. The pace was very slow and the character voices weren't distinct.
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Based on the true story of a reform school for boys in Florida, which made it so much better for me.  I found it fascinating in that I couldn't believe this actually happened, and could possibly still be happening.  Elwood is a good boy.  He studies hard, stays out of trouble, and lives with his grandmother after his mother and father took off.  His teacher recommends him for a special accelerated program to take courses at the local college, but in order to get there he has to hitchhike.  But when the car is pulled over by the cops and it's discovered to be stolen, they send Elwood to the Nickel school.  A black boy in 1960s Florida in a stolen car must have done something wrong.  Life was very hard at Nickel.  There were beatings and rapes, the food was terrible, and the black boys were treated worse than the white boys. Soon after getting there, Elwood was beaten badly and ended up in the infirmary.  There he met Turner who showed him the ropes and helped get him an easy assignment doing 'community service,' which was essentially free labor for the rich people in town.  That was ok, though.  It was better than working in the fields at the school.  The book fast forwards to the present where Elwood is doing well for himself.  He owns his own moving company and has a nice life.  Of course, there is a twist at the end that is fantastic.
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Wow. Wow. Wow. This book. This was tough to read, and it took me forever to get through because of how difficult it was to digest (the subject matter, not the writing!) and how horrifying it was. But I didn't want it to end. I would read Colson Whitehead writing about anything, but this story, based on a true story, is riveting and heartbreaking. A must-read for anyone and everyone.
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As a young black man in Tallahassee, Florida, in the early 1960s, Elwood Curtis has a vision for his life: progress through peace, the Civil Rights movement, and a challenging slate of college courses. But in an almost absurdly tragic turn of events, he hitches a ride in a stolen car. Thus begins his time at Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school. Though he endures terrible abuse at Nickel, the friendship of another boy named Turner sustains him. Likewise, Turner trusts and confides in Elwood. Interspersed chapters from Elwood’s adult life in New York City provide glimpses of the lasting impact of the trauma suffered all those years before. Just as Elwood tries “without success to figure out why his life had bent to this wretched avenue,” so will the reader of this virtuosic novel. It’s difficult to find words that haven’t already been used to praise Colson Whitehead’s unique body of work, but The Nickel Boys is truly something special.
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I was given a free copy of this book from #netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  Colson Whitehead writes with beautiful prose no matter the subject.  In this case, the story is about a group of boys who are imprisoned at the Nickel School for boys as punishment for a crime or perceived crime that they committed.  The boys are made to do hard work and are often beaten.  Their terms in the school are up to the prison guards, as they have not set time that they have to serve.  This book covers the story of Elwood and his fate at the school.  Never a comfortable read, but ALWAYS a good read with Mr. Whitehead.  Recommend!
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I was not as impressed as most with this title. It felt a tad disjointed, the way the stories came and went, especially the last half. However, it is an important story to tell and Colson Whitehead is one of the premier storytellers to tell it. I enjoyed the writing and the story itself.
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Colson Whitehead has done it again. This is fantastic story-telling, impressive characterisation and twists and turns I was never expecting. Dare I say I might even prefer this to The Underground Railroad? Although both novels are spectacular.

I didn't fully know what I was getting into with this book. I have a habit of not always reading the blurb of books by authors I know and trust to deliver. Even though you know from the blurb that Elwood is going to end up at Nickel, Whitehead does a great job of building up hope that maybe it won't happen, or maybe it won't be so bad. Or maybe that's just me being ever the optimist. Because Whitehead doesn't scrimp on Elwood's characterisation before he enters Nickel, it hurts even more when he is incarcerated and when he realises what the place really is. 

What I love is how Whitehead jumped between the past and the present,  continuing to give the reader hope and forcing the reader to persevere through the worst parts of the book, knowing there was a future to look forward to.

And then came the page I had to read three times to understand what had just happened. Oh, he hit me with a surprise moment and he got me good. #nospoilers.

The worst part is that Nickel is based on a real school that was in operation for over 100 years and many of horrors depicted in this book really happened in the Florida school. This is a beautiful blend of history, research and narration. And yes, it was a painful and uncomfortable read but was it brilliant? Absolutely.
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This books is incredible. Having lived in Florida for 9 years, including when the unmarked graves were discovered, I had very limited knowledge on this story and the school. This book, while small, sheds light on a horrific moment in our history in such a brilliant way. My heart ached for the characters and the horrific trauma they faced. This is certainly an excellent book to incorporate into your curriculum for high school age and above.
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I seriously think this was my favorite book of the year. Even though it was a tough read it was well written.
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