The Nickel Boys

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

Elwood is a bright boy whose soul is stirred to incandescence by the inspirational words of Dr. King. Tragically, Jim Crow doesn't care in the least about his excellent moral fiber and pitches him into the hellhole of the Nickel Academy, a reform school for delinquents, runaways, and orphans where neglect is the best possible outcome. Torture, rape, and death are common. Elwood's sense of justice contrasts with his friend Turner's pragmatism, but both boys find their codes challenged by the horrors they face. The characters are fictional, but the events are all too real.
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When Elwood Curtis hitchhikes to college, the car is pulled over, and he is charged with car theft.   He is sent to the Nickel Academy, a reformatory school for juvenile delinquents.  At the school, students are beaten and sexually abused.  Corrupt officials sell the school supplies to local merchants and farm the boys out as workers.  

This was a well written and engaging story.  The story line itself, based on a true story, was heartbreaking.  The characters were very realistic and believable.  My only criticism is that the present day story line was a bit jerky.  Overall 4 out of 5 stars.
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Change doesn’t come easy. Few know this better than those persecuted by the Jim Crow laws. 

Elwood grew up listening to Dr. King’s speeches on repeat and inserting himself into the frontlines of protests.  Unfortunately, his young activist path was diverted when he was sentenced to the Nickel Academy. 
I expected the adolescent prison to be a microcosm of society during the Jim Crow era: illustrating the racial prejudice within the confines of the juvenile detention center. While there was clear separation of whites and blacks, Whitehead used Elwood’s childhood as a framework for his moral code and advanced thinking. 

The ultimate message is to stand up for yourself and your peers - Martin Luther did it from a podium in front of thousands and Elwood did it in front of a few forgotten boys. 

I was immediately drawn to Elwood and his wise-beyond-his-years temperament. Whitehead weaved a beautiful story with moments that warrant self-reflection. This is a narrative for all people and backgrounds as a call to action - whatever that cause may be.
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Damn. 

What a powerful novel about the Florida Dozier School for Boys, which is renamed to Nickel Academy and moved to Tallahassee.  There were times, particularly in the section that takes place entirely at the "reform school," where I wondered how much longer before the novel ends. Fortunately, the novel is divided into three sections, and it's the second section that is particularly brutal, when our two main characters, Elwood and Turner, are living at the school.  We meet Elwood in the beginning of the novel, a high school student offered a free scholarship to take college classes for free in the afternoon, but he hitches a ride to get to the college and is picked up by a man who has stolen a vehicle and gets pulled over, and even though this story takes place in the Sixties, it's the same story that happens today, two black guys in a car, white cop, and history repeats it over and over.  

While at the school, Elwood and Turner become close friends. Elwood tries to practice the lessons he remembers hearing from MLK, and Turner just tries to survive by doing what is expected of him.  Right off the bat, Elwood gets a brutal beating for trying to break up a fight and spends weeks in the hospital recovering.  Turner invites Elwood to join him on the Community Service gig that gets them out of prison and working at the homes of board members and delivering the food and supplies intended for the black students to local businesses, while the prison guard sleeps with his lover or in the truck waiting for the boys to finish their job.  

Much has been written about this horrible school, and the mentions of the fire when the boys died are unlikely to be forgotten, but reading this novel, and immersing into the lives of the characters, it's unlikely I will now forget the painful ways these boys suffered while so thousands of people drove by this school to view their Christmas display, ignorant or unwilling to admit the atrocties of what was happening inside the school.  http://www.jacksoncountytimes.net/local-news/jackson-county-history/item/3939-dozier-school-s-christmas-show-returns-in-memories-of-visitors.html   This article was published in 2013, just two years after the school closed.

Damn.
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Colson Whitehead’s newest novel is set in a Florida reform school for boys during the Jim Crow era. The school and many of the events that take place in the school are based on real life. The book looks frankly at the abuse that the boys receive at the school: physical, sexual, and mental, but it’s delivered in such a way that is quite tolerable to read. I wasn’t expecting this to be such an easy read given the subject matter, but the writing was just so smooth and well crafted. It went down pretty easy. That isn’t to say that there weren’t parts that made me cringe at the casual cruelty inflicted on these boys. 

Elwood, the main character, is a very likeably, resilient young boy who longs to make the world a better place and is inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and speeches of MLK. Early in the book we see this optimism, hope, and willingness to strive for progress, but I found it the hardest to read because I kept waiting for the hammer to drop. It’s no spoiler to know that Elwood ends up at Nickel Academy, but I didn’t know how to when he was going to get there. 

Because The Nickel Boys is a quick, relatively easy read that deals with such a heavy subject matter, I think it would be a great introduction to subjects such as racism, corruption, Jim Crow, criminal justice, and the like to new adults and even certain high school aged readers. It could lead to an interest in these historical topics and events, as well as how those events of our past continue to shape our country and national dialogue. It’s a good read for adults, too. 

I’m not giving this five stars only because I wasn’t able to connect enough emotionally to the characters and story. Maybe that says something about me as a reader, but I was looking for more depth of emotion than I found. That being said, it was still quite a good read, and I will be recommending it broadly. 

I received a digital ARC of this book from Doubeday Books and #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to read this book!  I appreciate the kindness. 
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Many thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, This is a disturbing and sad piece of historical fiction that was inspired by a true story of a juvenile detention home in Florida. Mr. Whitehead has written an amazing story of Elwood who is wrongly accused and sentenced to time in a juvenile home. It takes place in the 60’s in the time of the civil rights movement. This is a powerful tale of a horrible event in the history of our country. I couldn’t put it down.
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Brilliant and powerful. Mr. Whitehead places the reader into the injustices experienced by African American youth at the hands of the juvenile justice system of the 1960s South, and the deep scars - both seen and unseen - left by these experiences. A tremendous follow up to The Underground Railroad.
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Wow, just wow! I love Colson Whitehead, and this is one of his finest. This is based on a TRUE story, and should be required reading for all Americans. This left me devastated and in awe. A must read.
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After his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead delivers another breathtaking novel during the civil rights movement. This book was hard to read at times because of the descriptions of the treatment of those boys. Whitehead absolutely delivers a fantastically written, heartbreaking story.
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The first book I have read by Colson Whitehead. It was a page turner with roots from real life events. A riveting and haunting story of America’s ugly past. Everyone should read.
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I knew I had to brace myself for this one. But am so glad I did. Colson Whitehead writes in such sharp and powerful language. Much like The Underground railroad, this needs to be required reading for everyone.
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An absolute must read! Two boys meet in a Florida juvenile reformatory during the Jim Crow era - their friendship endures horrors no one can imagine. A beautifully written book on the ugliest of subjects.
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I found this book to be an emotional roller coaster, where I could sometimes anticipate what was going to happen, but not enough to be predictable. I was blown away by the depth of the main character Elwood, and wanted nothing more than to take away the emotional and physical trauma that the youth in the novel face. This book is perfect for anyone interested in the Civil Rights era, or the American South. Even though I have read extensively about the era, my eyes were opened to the horrors of a "reform school" in the segregated South. This book is a must read that will be extremely popular among a wide variety of readers.
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There have been few books in my life that completely drew me in and refused to let me have a moment until I finished them, I am not at all ashamed to note that I read this at breakfast lunch and dinner foregoing conversations with colleagues and students today. I was completely engrossed in this book.

They synopsis is simple, this is a story about the horrific conditions at a boys reform school in Florida during the 60's. IT is told from the perspective of a former inmate. I will not say more because anything else would give away the magnificence of this plot. This book was so beautifully written. Elwood was a really good protagonist and so was Turner. I can't tell you how much these two absolutely needed each other for this story to work. You even felt for the ancillary characters, This is a good read for me because it is historical, without getting bogged down with too many true facts. I like that it read ads a story, everything that Whitehead wrote about was absolutely necessary. This book talks about a moment in history that I was completely unfamiliar within am glad that I read it. This is a great book, excellent story, excellent characters and writing that really draws you in and makes you become a part of the story. I recommend this to anyone looking for a great story that will also educate you.

This book was given to me as an ARC by Doubleday books in exchange for an honest review
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Wow, what a book. The first thing you need to know is that this book is based on a real school and the reality of numerous boys. The second thing you should know is that this book is not fun to read, but it is necessary. Terrible things happened to real children, and it wasn't stopped until very recently. I want to thank Colson Whitehead for writing this book, and making people like me aware of what happened. The story of this school needs to be told, and Colson Whitehead tells it well.

***I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley, thanks to them and Doubleday Books for allowing me to read this novel before publication***
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I read this engaging historical fiction novel in a day- it has everything you come to expect from a Colson Whitehead read- masterful writing and illuminating prose. I found myself gasping out loud throughout the book, as I wrestled with the plot and the real life connection with the school for boys in Florida (which only recently closed in 2011). The novel moves quickly and ends with a twist. Thank you to the author for bringing to light such a dark time in our recent history for young black boys. it helps to provide historical context for how we continue to treat this population today. 

I was given an ARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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Elwood Curtis is a smart, hard-working kid who should have a very bright future.  Unfortunately, though, he is a black man growing up in the Florida panhandle during the early 1960s, where Jim Crow laws, as well as many less obvious biases, create more obstacles than he can handle.  After getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is taken out of his home and sent to a reform school for “rehabilitation”.  But the Nickel Academy is hardly interested in educating and reforming students; it is a prison in everything but its name. It also marks the beginning of Elwood’s real education, much of which comes at the hands of a sadistic, corrupt white superintendent and a system that could not care less about his welfare.  Subjected to beatings, starvation, economic exploitation, and other atrocities, Elwood will struggle to recover from the experience over the rest of his life.

In The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead shares Elwood’s sad saga, as well as those of some of the other students at the school, most notably Jack Turner who becomes a friend and something of a mentor.  Without question, this is a brutal, heartbreaking story, with little in the way of hope or redemption offered as solace.  What makes it all the more harrowing is the fact that much of the story is true; in the Acknowledgments, the author notes that Nickel is based on the Dozier School for Boys in Florida where many of the incidents the novel chronicles actually occurred.  I found that to be simply frightening and it definitely influenced my entire reading experience.  Interestingly, Whiteside relates his tale with reasonably flat and matter-of-fact prose (despite an interesting twist near the end), preferring to allow the magnitude of the events speak for themselves.  That choice made for a very effective story-telling device.

Given its subject matter, it would be difficult to say that I enjoyed reading this book.  However, The Nickel Boys definitely taught me a lot about attitudes and actions in a time and place that, while ostensibly long ago and far away, seem like they could still occur in the here and now.  Nevertheless, I was confused about how the author portrayed differences between the black and white student experience at the school.  Beyond the segregated facilities, Whitehead makes it clear that black students received the worst of everything possible and likely suffered more degradation and physical abuse.  This is curious since the Dozier survivor website he recommends to the reader contains the memory of a particularly gruesome whipping written by a white man; this remembrance appears to be the source of the account of the initial beating that Elwood endures.  The point is that Nickel/Dozier was simply an evil institution run by vicious and self-serving people, which was true for everyone who had the misfortune to spend time there.
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Sometimes a beautifully written book is not an enjoyable book. This is the second book I have read by Colson Whitehead.  The first was Sag Harbor, so I was completely unprepared for the grim narrative he tells. While clearly an important and well written book, I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I will give it the highest rating possible and recommend it to others who enjoy serious and important American literature.
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First, let me just say that I loved this author's previous work, The Underground Railroad. I was so lost in that world that I briefly forgot there was never actually a literal railroad under the ground. He is THAT good. 

This book, I felt, was even better. Inspired by the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL (I was just reading a news article about this school recently), Whitehead brings an incredible cast to life to tell a dark story - but he shoots that story through with strands of hope that will carry you through.

This will be a top read of 2019 for me, no question. It hits shelves in July, so put it on your list NOW.

Big thank you's go out to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for this early review copy.
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