The Nickel Boys
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 in 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 on to 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 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.

The Nickel Boys Details

TitleThe Nickel Boys
Author
ReleaseJul 16th, 2019
PublisherDoubleday
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Adult Fiction, Novels

The Nickel Boys Review

  • Roxane
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this novel. It is rich with detail, the plot twists in a really interesting way, the novel's structure is pretty brilliant and overall, this is an ambitious book that was really well executed. It is a coming of age story where that coming of age is warped by the atrocities of a school for boys in segregated Florida. As Elwood awakens to the civil rights movement, he is stripped of nearly all his rights. The more he understands the freedom he deserves, the less freedom he has and that jux I loved this novel. It is rich with detail, the plot twists in a really interesting way, the novel's structure is pretty brilliant and overall, this is an ambitious book that was really well executed. It is a coming of age story where that coming of age is warped by the atrocities of a school for boys in segregated Florida. As Elwood awakens to the civil rights movement, he is stripped of nearly all his rights. The more he understands the freedom he deserves, the less freedom he has and that juxtaposition drives this remarkable novel. At times, there were bits of prose that felt a bit, half-hearted, like filler until he got to the part he was more interested in. I would have given this five stars but Whitehead uses cement instead of concrete at least 7 times. I stopped counting after 7 times because it was too upsetting. Cement, water, and aggregates make concrete! Cement and concrete are not synonyms. Why do copyeditors not catch this? WHY? Anyway, great novel. People are going to love this one. BUT STILL! CEMENT IS NOT CONCRETE.
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    The Florida Dozier School for Boys opened in 1900 and didn’t close until 2011. In this novel, it is renamed the Nickel Academy and the story is partially based upon true events that took place during the early 1960’s. Some of the boys, both black and white, had committed crimes while others didn’t have families or were runaways. The school didn’t provide an academic education or help of any kind. Instead, these young boys (ages 18-21) were subjected to brutal beatings, sexual abuse, and unimagin The Florida Dozier School for Boys opened in 1900 and didn’t close until 2011. In this novel, it is renamed the Nickel Academy and the story is partially based upon true events that took place during the early 1960’s. Some of the boys, both black and white, had committed crimes while others didn’t have families or were runaways. The school didn’t provide an academic education or help of any kind. Instead, these young boys (ages 18-21) were subjected to brutal beatings, sexual abuse, and unimaginable torture which led many to their deaths. Elwood winds up at the school by making an innocent decision with unforeseeable consequences. Being a southern town in the deep south during the 1960’s, the court’s decision was racist. Once incarcerated, Elwood finds friendship with fellow captive in the cynical Turner. The novel follows these boys as they try to survive the hellish prison. It is harrowing to know the abuses at this school continued into the 21st century. Whitehead is saying, “Look at this.” I looked and so should you.
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  • Read By RodKelly
    January 1, 1970
    In Colson Whitehead's latest historical masterpiece, a horrific, real-life reform school for boys in Florida is fictionalized as The Nickel Academy, a century-old institution where teenage boys, black and white, are sent for the slightest crimes: truancy, petty theft, "disrespecting" a white person, or even the crime of being abandoned by their parents. Extreme abuse, rape, racism, and brutal murder are ruling principles, and the only way to escape is to run away or suffer death at the hands of In Colson Whitehead's latest historical masterpiece, a horrific, real-life reform school for boys in Florida is fictionalized as The Nickel Academy, a century-old institution where teenage boys, black and white, are sent for the slightest crimes: truancy, petty theft, "disrespecting" a white person, or even the crime of being abandoned by their parents. Extreme abuse, rape, racism, and brutal murder are ruling principles, and the only way to escape is to run away or suffer death at the hands of the sadistic school administrators. The story is narrated by Elwood Curtis, an ambitious young black man who idolizes Dr. King, looking to his great words as a guide for his own way of existing in the world. He is on his way to college when he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time and has his path to success derailed when he lands in the snake-pit that is Nickel Academy, a place which breaks down all of the ideals he held so dear, leaving him to face the ugliness of the world and its random system of undeserved violence and punishment. He becomes close with another resident named Turner, who tries his best to rid Elwood of his infallible naivete and belief in the good of all people.The most brilliant thing about this novel is the writing and plot structure. Unlike many historical fiction novels, or novels based on true events, Whitehead doesn't spend hundreds of pages building up his setting, or dumping information on the reader. He goes straight into the horrific depths of the story, constructing a novel that shows incredible restraint and nuance. It is the ending that elevated this book from being great to being absolutely stellar and incredibly poignant! I was truly surprised by the revelations in the end, which totally clarified how brilliant and important the non-linear structure is for the story.This follow-up to the incredible accomplishment that is The Underground Railroad is another monumental work by a phenomenal and powerful artist!
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  • Jaclyn Crupi
    January 1, 1970
    Giddy-up, motherfucker. Says it all really.
  • Hendrik
    January 1, 1970
    Die Nickel Boys hinterlässt bei mir einen etwas zwiespältigen Eindruck. Unzweifelhaft leistet Colson Whitehead mit seinem Roman erneut einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Aufarbeitung der Geschichte des Rassismus in Amerika. Das Unrecht der Vergangenheit wirkt bis heute nach, was an den aktuellen Konflikten in der US-amerikanischen Gesellschaft offenkundig wird. Sprichwörtlich heilt die Zeit alle Wunden, aber das stimmt natürlich nur zum Teil. Zurück bleiben meist Narben, dem Körper als sichtbare Erinne Die Nickel Boys hinterlässt bei mir einen etwas zwiespältigen Eindruck. Unzweifelhaft leistet Colson Whitehead mit seinem Roman erneut einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Aufarbeitung der Geschichte des Rassismus in Amerika. Das Unrecht der Vergangenheit wirkt bis heute nach, was an den aktuellen Konflikten in der US-amerikanischen Gesellschaft offenkundig wird. Sprichwörtlich heilt die Zeit alle Wunden, aber das stimmt natürlich nur zum Teil. Zurück bleiben meist Narben, dem Körper als sichtbare Erinnerung an die erlitten Schmerzen für den Rest des Lebens eingeschrieben. Diese Erfahrung machen auch die "Nickel Boys", Jungen die durch den Aufenthalt in einer berüchtigten Besserungsanstalt fürs Leben gezeichnet wurden. Die landläufig nach einem früheren Direktor "Nickel" genannte Institution, diente ursprünglich dem Zweck, straffällig gewordene Jugendliche mittels Arbeit und Bildung zu resozialisieren. Hinter der gemeinnützigen Fassade verbirgt sich aber tatsächlich ein System brutalsten Missbrauchs. Über Jahrzehnte aufrecht erhalten und von den Behörden geduldet.Whitehead erzählt eine fiktive Geschichte, die auf realen Begebenheiten in Florida beruht. Im Zuge eines universitären Archäologieprojekts stieß man auf die Gebeine ehemaliger Insassen einer solchen Einrichtung. Anschließende gerichtsmedizinische Untersuchungen ergaben zahlreiche Beweise für durch das Personal begangene Verbrechen. Obwohl Ehemalige immer wieder auf das an ihnen begangene Unrecht hingewiesen hatten, wurde ihnen seitens der Öffentlichkeit kein Gehör geschenkt. Erst die Ausgrabungen auf dem Gelände brachten die Wahrheit ans Licht. Ausgehend von diesen Ereignissen aus dem Jahr 2014, die den Prolog zum Roman bilden, springt die Handlung in das Tallahassee der frühen sechziger Jahre.Elwood Curtis, ein bildungsbeflissener, strebsamer Jugendlicher wird unschuldig als Mittäter eines Autodiebstahls verurteilt. Im "Nickel" wird er mit einem System konfrontiert, das darauf abzielt den Willen, der euphemistisch Schüler genannten Insassen, zu brechen. Dabei ist die Anstalt lediglich eine Fortsetzung der für Schwarze alltäglichen Gewalt und Diskriminierung. Rassentrennung ist auf dem Gelände ganz selbstverständlich gelebte Praxis. Den Kopf unten halten, nur nicht zu hochmütig werden, so lautet die Maxime für Schwarze draußen wie drinnen. Elwood versucht dennoch gegen alle Widerstände seine Würde als Mensch zu bewahren, ganz seinem großen Vorbild Martin Luther King nacheifernd. Es ist nicht so, dass mich die Geschichte dieser Figur gänzlich unberührt gelassen hat. Dennoch ist Elwood für meinen Geschmack fast schon zu perfekt geraten. Er ist geradezu der Prototyp eines anständigen Jungen, den das Schicksal heimsucht. Im Lichte seines Charakters muss das an ihm begangene Unrecht zwangsläufig um so größer erscheinen. Mein Eindruck war, dass Whitehead seiner Hauptfigur damit zu viel aufbürdet. Elwood bleibt mehr ein oberflächliches Ideal, was zu Lasten der Wirklichkeitsnähe der Figur geht. Das Ende hält noch eine Wendung parat, die von mir nicht verraten wird, aber meine gerade geäußerten Einwände vielleicht entkräften könnte. Trotzdem verbleibt bei mir Skepsis, ob das Buch diesen Griff in die Romantrickkiste wirklich nötig gehabt hat. Zudem hätten einige Stellen länger ausgearbeitet werden können, einige Nebenfiguren bleiben so doch ziemlich blass.
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    Rtc.
  • Alex
    January 1, 1970
    "The world had whispered its rules to him for his whole life and he refused to listen, hearing instead a higher order. The world continued to instruct: Do not love for they will disappear, do not trust for you will be betrayed, do not stand up for you will be swatted down. Still he heard those higher imperatives: Love and that love will be returned, trust in the righteous path and it will lead you to deliverance, fight and things will change. He never listened, never saw what was plainly in fron "The world had whispered its rules to him for his whole life and he refused to listen, hearing instead a higher order. The world continued to instruct: Do not love for they will disappear, do not trust for you will be betrayed, do not stand up for you will be swatted down. Still he heard those higher imperatives: Love and that love will be returned, trust in the righteous path and it will lead you to deliverance, fight and things will change. He never listened, never saw what was plainly in front of him, and now he had been plucked from the world altogether. The only voices were those of the boys below, the shouts and laughter and fearful cries, as if he floated in a bitter heaven."Colson Whitehead, The Nickel BoysColson Whitehead has asserted himself as one of the preeminent English language literary figures of our times. Emerging as a talent with his wonderfully inventive debut, The Intuitionist, he followed his first novel with a string of critical successful books, both fiction and non. It was the 2016 release of The Underground Railroad, a magical realist reimagining of the slave escape passage, that garnered him near-ubiquitous acclaim. Chosen as an Oprah book and winning the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the novel is now set for adaptation, with Oscar winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) directing a six-part limited series. With all this success, Whitehead could have been forgiven if his follow up novel, The Nickel Boys, was a bit of a letdown. Thankfully, there is no such ebb in quality here and Whitehead demonstrates that right now he's at the top of his game, giving us this haunting and tragic account of the final years of Jim Crow institutions in the the Deep South, institutions eager to give African American bodies as much pain as possible before the era of legal segregation was dismantled completely. Elwood Curtis is a black teenager living in Georgia in the early 1960s who becomes inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the hope of desegregation it brought with it. Repeatedly listening to the one record his grandmother has, Martin Luther King at Zion Hill, Elwood embraces the emancipatory rhetoric of King and seeks to take advantage of the improved opportunities for African American youth. He studies assiduously and prepares to pursue post-secondary education when misfortune and bad timing results in his conviction for a crime he did not commit and his incarceration in a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy.Elwood, a shy and studious boy, must quickly re-evaluate his prospects while figuring out ways to expedite his release. He learns quickly that the stern hand of violent repression still guides the reformatory's philosophy and watches in horror as any stepping out of line can result in cruel torture or death at the hands of white tormentors, none of whom will ever face any consequences. Although he finds friendships and opportunities to avoid some of the worst punitive punishments of the reformatory, Elwood must decide whether his commitment to the justice that King advocated can allow him to silently bide his time and leave in tact the corrupt school so eager to sadistically punish black children.A gifted story teller, Whitehead's prose is more toned down compared to some of his previous work, but in The Nickel Boys it is his plotting, the slow build up to an unforgettable climax, that is so engrossing. In particular, it is the revelation at the end, one that is so unexpected (despite knowing in advance that something special happens in the end and trying to guess what was going to happen) that leaves the reader shattered. The Underground Railroad also uses a twist at the end, one of an almost absurdist quality, one fitting to explain the genesis of Cora's fantastical journey. The Nickel Boys, however, uses this slight of hand even more powerfully. While much of the novel repeats the theme quite common in African American literary canon, and Whitehead's own work, of white supremacy's subjection of black bodies to abuse and violence, the end of The Nickel Boys demands of his protagonist to take agency for these abused bodies, to refuse to let their stories disappear in past or in this case the grounds surrounding the reformatory. While devastating when revealed, it also echoed the powerful message from Whitehead's speech after winning the National Book Award:They can't break me, because I'm a bad mother f****rWhat is so amazing about Whitehead is his mastery of different voices, different techniques, different genres. Of the four books of his I have read, no two is the same, let alone similar. From the noir detective quality of The Intuitionist, to the embrace of horror and magical realism in The Underground Railroad, Whitehead appears comfortable writing anything. With The Nickel Boys we get another taste of Whitehead's talents, writing a more conventionally structured telling of Jim Crow that is gripping and powerful and incredibly timely at a time when more and more are shouting out loud to power: You can't break me.
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    This is the eighth book by Whitehead that I've read and by now I know what to expect from his fiction. It will be full of perfect sentences that never feel like they're showing off. It will break my heart at least three times in ways that are expected and surprising as a sucker punch. It is best not to come in with any particular expectations, he is the master of any genre he pleases and sometimes a book is not the genre you think it is.THE NICKEL BOYS is in many ways his most traditional novel. This is the eighth book by Whitehead that I've read and by now I know what to expect from his fiction. It will be full of perfect sentences that never feel like they're showing off. It will break my heart at least three times in ways that are expected and surprising as a sucker punch. It is best not to come in with any particular expectations, he is the master of any genre he pleases and sometimes a book is not the genre you think it is.THE NICKEL BOYS is in many ways his most traditional novel. It is a piece of historical fiction about a reformatory school for boys (aka juvenile detention center) in Florida in the 1960's, what happened there, and how it changed every boy who set foot inside it. It is, above all, bearing witness to this kind of pain not just in this one place but of all the places where this pain happens without ever being revealed. It is based on a real school and a real scandal that came to light decades later, too late to save anyone. This time there is no surrealist vehicle for escape, no monsters come to life, the closest things you get to fantasy are the men capable of violence against the vulnerable and the ideals of a man like Martin Luther King Jr., which can sound an awful lot like a dream when you are the one in the dark, painful prison.Our main character, Elwood Curtis, is a boy who does right. He has always been able to get ahead in the white man's world because of his ability to be polite and get his work done. He believes in civil rights and longs to join the student protesters ramping up across the South. Seeing a boy like him in a place like the Nickel Academy has its own specific pain, but Whitehead is sure to let us see not just this one good, idealistic, intelligent boy but dozens of boys from worse circumstances with their own difficult fates. Elwood struggles to keep his ideals, to try and find a noble way to save himself and the other boys, to reach out for help while still knowing how little the world wants to help boys like him in a place like this.Reading this book requires you to look directly at the human capacity for evil, just as THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD did. And like that book, it is not a pleasant read even if there is joy to be found in the prose and characters Whitehead gives us. It is just the length it should be, long enough to bear witness and pack its fair share of punches, but let you finish before you have given in to despair. It may take an act of will to open it, but once you are inside it is hard to leave until you have seen it through.
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  • Melissa Crytzer Fry
    January 1, 1970
    **4.5 stars rounded up **What a heartbreaking, incredibly well-written novel based on an actual “reform” school for boys in Florida (The Dozier School for Boys). This book is slight in pages (210), but voluminous in content, heart, and emotion. I was immediately drawn into the world of the main character, Elwood, and soon his friend, Turner. The writing is economical in some ways, but in others wholly literary and arresting. Whitehead’s choice to set the novel during the Civil Rights movement il **4.5 stars rounded up **What a heartbreaking, incredibly well-written novel based on an actual “reform” school for boys in Florida (The Dozier School for Boys). This book is slight in pages (210), but voluminous in content, heart, and emotion. I was immediately drawn into the world of the main character, Elwood, and soon his friend, Turner. The writing is economical in some ways, but in others wholly literary and arresting. Whitehead’s choice to set the novel during the Civil Rights movement illuminates the severe inequality of the time and adds to the depth of the story as young Elwood uses the teachings/speeches of Martin Luther King for inspiration and strength. Wow. I still have not read this author’s, The Underground Railroad, and don’t know what I’ve been waiting for (I love Civil War-era fiction). And I now consider myself among Colson Whitehead’s fans. For those interested in learning more about the real Dozier School for Boys, the author provides a link to a heartbreaking website created by survivors who attended – many times, for ‘crimes’ that were not crimes in any sense. Whitehead handles the brutality without sensationalizing.(And many thanks to my book angel, who passed along an ARC so that I could get my hands on this book early).
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  • Beatrix Minkov
    January 1, 1970
    De 16-jarige Elwood Curtis is een gedreven en ambitieuze jongen die veel kracht en inspiratie haalt uit de toespraken van zijn idool, Martin Luther King. Het zijn de beginjaren van de burgerrechtenbeweging en Elwood ziet de veranderingen vol vertrouwen tegemoet. Zijn leven wordt echter ruw verstoord wanneer hij door stom toeval op het verkeerde moment op de verkeerde plaats blijkt te zijn: wrong race, wrong place.De setting is die van begin jaren '60 en de gebeurtenissen van Nickel zijn gebaseer De 16-jarige Elwood Curtis is een gedreven en ambitieuze jongen die veel kracht en inspiratie haalt uit de toespraken van zijn idool, Martin Luther King. Het zijn de beginjaren van de burgerrechtenbeweging en Elwood ziet de veranderingen vol vertrouwen tegemoet. Zijn leven wordt echter ruw verstoord wanneer hij door stom toeval op het verkeerde moment op de verkeerde plaats blijkt te zijn: wrong race, wrong place.De setting is die van begin jaren '60 en de gebeurtenissen van Nickel zijn gebaseerd op de gebeurtenissen die destijds plaatsvonden op tuchtschool 'Florida Dozier School for Boys'. Nickel is de hel op aarde, en vooral de zwarte jongens hebben het zwaar te verduren. Zware lijfstraffen, misbruik, corruptie, en eenzame opsluiting worden bij de minste overtreding toegepast, zogenaamd om de jongens in het gareel te kunnen houden. Het 'Witte Huis' wordt het meest gevreesd, en van de jongens die 'naar achteren' werden gebracht, is er nooit iemand teruggekeerd. Kort na zijn aankomst in Nickel sluit Elwood vriendschap met de onbevreesde Turner die vastbesloten is om uit Nickel te ontsnappen...De schrijfstijl maakt het boek. Als lezer weet Whitehead je regelmatig te frustreren, te verbazen, en op het verkeerde been te zetten. Gedetailleerde scenes worden afgewisseld met warrige flashbacks en flashforwards die je als lezer even doen fronsen, om vervolgens weer geraakt te worden door een volgende twist en de daarbij horende emoties. De glansrijke ontknoping maakt dat je na de laatste pagina direct weer opnieuw wilt beginnen met lezen om de puzzelstukjes nu eindelijk op hun plek te kunnen leggen.'De jongens van Nickel' is een wreed verhaal over ruw verstoorde jongensdromen, overlevingsdrang, wanhoop, vergiffenis en de wonderlijke kracht van vriendschap. Loved it! 💕 👌🏻
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  • Tyler Goodson
    January 1, 1970
    I remember driving through Maraianna, Florida with my grandparents and hearing stories about the Dozier School for Boys. The reform school in The Nickel Boys is based on The Dozier School, and those stories are sickeningly, horrifyingly real. Colson Whitehead underlines the reality of that place, and the existence of the boys who were tormented there. He shows how what the Nickel boys endured will never leave them, no matter how many years or miles pass between.
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  • Eileen Daly-Boas
    January 1, 1970
    (I received an advanced reader’s copy of this.)Colson Whitehead is an amazing writer, and I always like how he crafts his words. This is a wrenching story that’s beautifully told. Elwood, the main character, is so lovingly written that any injustice would necessarily seem cruel. But, from the very beginning, the reader knows that he’s not getting out unscathed. Whitehead’s brilliance is in holding back, in *not* cataloging every injustice (because for Elwood, and any Person of Color, there could (I received an advanced reader’s copy of this.)Colson Whitehead is an amazing writer, and I always like how he crafts his words. This is a wrenching story that’s beautifully told. Elwood, the main character, is so lovingly written that any injustice would necessarily seem cruel. But, from the very beginning, the reader knows that he’s not getting out unscathed. Whitehead’s brilliance is in holding back, in *not* cataloging every injustice (because for Elwood, and any Person of Color, there could be no complete accounting-there’s just too much), and instead this story is like a sharp stiletto blade that slides in smoothly and deftly, until you find you’ve been sliced open. I’ve heard people say they don’t like fiction because it’s “just a story someone made up,” and they prefer non-fiction “because it’s true.” This novel does what the best fiction does: it shows us a truth. And to pretend it doesn’t, or explain away society’s complicity, or brush it away as “mere fiction”- well, to me, that would be the real lie.So, keep a watch out for this to be released-it’s a beautiful story.
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  • Jaime
    January 1, 1970
    The Nickel Boys is about Elwood Curtis, a young boy coming of age in Florida during the Jim Crow era in the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s about one mistake could destroy your future when you’re a young black male in the South. For that mistake cost Elwood his dream of attending college. Instead, he is sentenced to the hellish juvenile reform school called The Nickel Academy•One thing I loved about this book is how Colson Whitehead takes a true story and writes a fictional account. The Nickel Boys is about Elwood Curtis, a young boy coming of age in Florida during the Jim Crow era in the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s about one mistake could destroy your future when you’re a young black male in the South. For that mistake cost Elwood his dream of attending college. Instead, he is sentenced to the hellish juvenile reform school called The Nickel Academy•One thing I loved about this book is how Colson Whitehead takes a true story and writes a fictional account. Another strong point of this book is Colson’s writing is very intense and layered. Colson develops the main protagonist Elwood so deeply that you feel as if you know him. You root for him, you want to protect him because where he’s going isn’t a great place and what happens to him changes him and I hated to see him lose himself. I don’t want to give too much away, but Colson always gives the story a curveball — one I didn’t see coming which surprised me and added yet another layer the storytelling. This novel really illustrates how one incident can change the course of a black boy’s life forever — and shows how society has failed these black Boys.https://www.instagram.com/absorbedinp...
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  • Bruce Katz
    January 1, 1970
    I'm going to go out on a limb here. What Camus' "The Stranger" was to the post-World War Two generation, the "Nickel Boys" is to ours. A novel of big ideas, expansive vision, and heart told in a deceptively quiet voice that captures an essential aspect of its time. A book that deserves to be read, re-read, and taught in our schools.The publisher's description gives a perfectly useful summary of the plot. The basic set-up -- an innocent man is wrongly accused of something he didn't do and is sent I'm going to go out on a limb here. What Camus' "The Stranger" was to the post-World War Two generation, the "Nickel Boys" is to ours. A novel of big ideas, expansive vision, and heart told in a deceptively quiet voice that captures an essential aspect of its time. A book that deserves to be read, re-read, and taught in our schools.The publisher's description gives a perfectly useful summary of the plot. The basic set-up -- an innocent man is wrongly accused of something he didn't do and is sent to prison - is familiar, of course. But Whitehead adds something new to the mixture. As the story unfolds, big questions insinuate themselves into the reader's mind, oppositional notions: the desire to do the right thing versus the darkness of the real world; the arc of a universe that may or may not bend towards justice versus the vicious tenacity of racism; the costs of action versus the costs of standing by.Elwood, the book's hero, has all the attributes of a truly good person. He's smart, responsible, motivated, caring. He's also a young black man in the South. The story begins in the early sixties. The Civil Rights movement is still building, there are sit-ins and demonstrations, and a blossoming sense of purpose. The voice that touches Elwood most profoundly is that of Martin Luther King. Musing one day on Dr. King, Elwood thinks, "That was the message of the movement: to trust in the ultimate decency that lived in every human heart." Elwood believes in that message. The Civil Rights activists are his role models and he wants to be with them, if not physically then at least in the struggle. There's a passage early in the book that captures where Elwood is coming from: Elwood said, "It's against the law." State law, but also Elwood's. If everyone looked the other way, then everybody was in on it. If he looked the other way, he was an implicated as the rest. That's how he saw it, how he'd always seen things. Elwood's "law" guides him in his interactions with everyone, from teachers to shoplifters to officials of the school -- Nickel -- to which he is wrongfully serntenced.Is he naive? Almost certainly. He admits the possibility himself. But in his Burkean worldview, naivety is no excuse for doing nothing in the face of wrongdoing. Opposing Elwood's vision of a moral universe is the reality of the Nickel school, based on a real place: There was no higher system guiding Nickel's brutality, merely an indiscriminate spite, one that had nothing to do with people. A figment from tenth-grade science struck him: a Perpetual Misery Machine, one that operated by itself without human agency. Also, Archimedes, one of his first encyclopedia finds. Violence is the only lever big enough to move the world.An evil machine that operates "by itself without without human agency" -- an echo of an answer, reported by Primo Levy, that shut down all questions about Why in the Nazi camps: "Hier ist kein Warum." Here there is no Why. But of course, in the real world, there is human agency; people have everything to do with the violence they inflict on one another. For me, this is Whitehead's extraordinary accomplishment in this book -- making us recognize that we have agency, making us look at ourselves and our culture honestly. In ways large and small, Whitehead makes us see the effects of the choices individuals make, good and bad, and the social, economic, and political structures that are invisible to some but inescapable to others. The scars that sometimes never heal, the damage that for some is never undone."The Nickel Boys" is not in any way polemical or oppressive. Indeed, it is gracious in providing the reader with ample breathing space and light to process what's going on. Reading it is a journey of discovery, toward the possibility of redempton. And yes, because this really does matter, it's a helluva read. Events and images in "The Nickel Boys" will resonate long after the book covers have been closed. Attentive readers will see Nickel's shadows in the streets around them.PS: A week or so after I first posted this review -- there are reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere about the discovery of bodies buried on the grounds of a now-closed Florida boys' 'reform school.'
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  • Tori
    January 1, 1970
    Wow. This book is brilliant. Dark, harrowing and all too real.Colson Whitehead is an absolutely exceptional writer!
  • Uriel Perez
    January 1, 1970
    Based in part on the real life events that transpired at the Dozier Academy, Colson Whitehead's THE NICKEL BOYS re-imagines the horrors suffered and the friendships borne in a hellish internment at a Jim Crow-era reformatory.In it, we follow Elwood Curtis, a studious young man and ardent disciple to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fall victim to the racist policing that lands him at the Nickel Academy for Boys. His time there reveals the hard truths of race in America, the extent o Based in part on the real life events that transpired at the Dozier Academy, Colson Whitehead's THE NICKEL BOYS re-imagines the horrors suffered and the friendships borne in a hellish internment at a Jim Crow-era reformatory.In it, we follow Elwood Curtis, a studious young man and ardent disciple to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fall victim to the racist policing that lands him at the Nickel Academy for Boys. His time there reveals the hard truths of race in America, the extent of human cruelty and brings him close to a boy known only as Turner.Whitehead brings to life the broken promises of Emancipation and Reconstruction and spins a tale of unrelenting power and force.It is a sublime experience to read THE NICKEL BOYS.
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  • Raven Ross
    January 1, 1970
    I really wanted to love this book, but I found it really difficult to fully commit to the words. The tone of voice in which the story was told always had a little too much distance to it. I respect Colson Whitehead’s endeavor to tell this tragic and historically relevant piece of black history, but the deliverance was off, in my opinion.
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  • Melinda
    January 1, 1970
    Made me yell "WAIT, WHAT" in the breakroom today. Actual review to come closer to pub date.
  • Heleen Osse
    January 1, 1970
    Een schrijnend en verbazingwekkend verhaal over zwarte jongens die op de school Nickel terecht komen en altijd één nul achter staan in de samenleving. Schrijfstijl was erg prettig, veel beter dan de Ondergrondse Spoorweg. Zeer de moeite waard!
  • Mia
    January 1, 1970
    I love this novel. I loved the characters, Elwood and Turner who initially almost act as foils, but through their friendship mirror each other. Through the horrors of the Nickel Academy, based on the real-life torture chamber that was Florida’s Dozier School for Boys (the school at one point was the largest reformatory school in the country and closed in 2011), Colson Whitehead again reveals humanity’s ugliest and most merciless side. Aided by meticulous research and excellent prose, Whitehead t I love this novel. I loved the characters, Elwood and Turner who initially almost act as foils, but through their friendship mirror each other. Through the horrors of the Nickel Academy, based on the real-life torture chamber that was Florida’s Dozier School for Boys (the school at one point was the largest reformatory school in the country and closed in 2011), Colson Whitehead again reveals humanity’s ugliest and most merciless side. Aided by meticulous research and excellent prose, Whitehead tells the story of two black boys who are thrown around by chance and the violent whims of white America. Where Turner sees the world as hopelessly corrupt and crooked, Martin Luther King Jr’s words drive Elwood. The hope for change continue to drive Elwood even as he suffers in the shadows of Nickel Academy. Whitehead’s writing is of course FANTASTIC, but the plot structure is sublime. The revelations that come from the last paragraph alone make this work a masterpiece.Special shoutout to Jaimie, who no one knew where to place.
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  • Noelle
    January 1, 1970
    (Based on uncorrected ebook ARC provided by publisher.) Gobbled this in about six hours over two days. The Nickel Boys deftly avoids sensationalizing tragic events, begins an important conversation about the use of "reform schools," and reminds readers to look beneath a shiny surface.
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  • Robin
    January 1, 1970
    After reading The Underground Railroad I will read anything Colson Whitehead writes. Nickel Boys is an extraordinary novel that depicts the cruelty of a reform school in the South during Jim Crow. The Martin Luther King quotes throughout the novel only add to the intensity of the story. The ending blew me away as did the writing. Another perfect novel by one of the finest writers of our time.
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  • Carol Ann
    January 1, 1970
    Why 5-stars you ask? Because it’s COLSON WHITEHEAD. Couldn’t put it down. Review forthcoming.
  • Diane Payne
    January 1, 1970
    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 beginnin 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/loc... This article was published in 2013, just two years after the school closed.Damn.
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  • Diane Payne
    January 1, 1970
    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 beginnin 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 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/loc... This article was published in 2013, just two years after the school closed.Damn.
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  • Andre
    January 1, 1970
    Colson is a great writer! Colson is such a grand writer, and he always hits his mark, usually with precision, and this new novel is an excellent example of his mastery. In this work, he fictionalizes a reform school in Florida that was the source of horror and abuse for those unfortunate enough to be sentenced there. The fictional Nickel reform school is rampant with abuse, fraud, and hopelessness. Elwood is a good young guy, who wants to do the right thing, but one dumb luck moment lands him at Colson is a great writer! Colson is such a grand writer, and he always hits his mark, usually with precision, and this new novel is an excellent example of his mastery. In this work, he fictionalizes a reform school in Florida that was the source of horror and abuse for those unfortunate enough to be sentenced there. The fictional Nickel reform school is rampant with abuse, fraud, and hopelessness. Elwood is a good young guy, who wants to do the right thing, but one dumb luck moment lands him at Nickel reformatory. Elwood was on track to attend college, so this is a major interruption of his life plan. His education at Nickel consists of terror, both real and imagined and though Elwood starts out with a “make the best of it” attitude, the reality of Nickel forces a change in mentality. The beauty of this novel is how Colson manages to expose the horrors but not in horrible fashion. That takes a special skill. So we are exposed to the bullsh**t, but not in a way that makes you want to stop reading. It’s done in a sort of matter of fact way, which works and keeps the book from veering into a horror novel. “The officer of the court was a good old boy with a backwoods beard and a hungover wobble to his step. He’d outgrown his shirt and the pressure and the pressure against the buttons made him look upholstered. But he was a white man with a pistol so despite his dishevelment he sent a vibration.” Elwood meets a guy, Turner, at Nickel who has a more pragmatic approach to life and is a perfect balance to Elwood’s sunny optimism. It allows Colson to help the reader explore the choices one can make under difficult circumstances, not of one’s choosing. I’m so impressed with the delicate handling employed by Colson, it’s clear to me that this material in a less skilled writer’s hands could have been an angry book of terror. And that may be the necessary route at times, but that book is easier to write and harder to keep the reader engaged. Colson keeps you engaged with the right amount of indignation and empathy. Kudos to Colson Whitehead, he has clearly established himself as one of America’s best novelists and this one will contend for awards, I’m certain of that. Read it. It’s due out July 16. Big thanks to Anna @never_withouta_book for sharing her ARC with me.
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  • Jeroen Schwartz
    January 1, 1970
    Minstens zo shockerend als 'De ondergrondse spoorweg' - over slavernij - maar na een eerste lezing nog beter is 'De jongens van Nickel' - een opvolger over racisme en discriminatie met minder symboliek en (daardoor) nog meer zeggingskracht misschien. Een biografie van onderdrukten: 'Nickel' is net als de 'Spoorweg' een spannende, gefictionaliseerde, historische roman met politieke flashbacks en een wrange verbinding met de actualiteit. Een verhaal met thrillerelementen ook - ingesleten vooroorde Minstens zo shockerend als 'De ondergrondse spoorweg' - over slavernij - maar na een eerste lezing nog beter is 'De jongens van Nickel' - een opvolger over racisme en discriminatie met minder symboliek en (daardoor) nog meer zeggingskracht misschien. Een biografie van onderdrukten: 'Nickel' is net als de 'Spoorweg' een spannende, gefictionaliseerde, historische roman met politieke flashbacks en een wrange verbinding met de actualiteit. Een verhaal met thrillerelementen ook - ingesleten vooroordelen en uitwassingen, gruwelijkheden waarvan je adem stokt en je hart krimpt, zonder overdbodige expliciete beschrijvingen van misbruik en geweld. Het kan ook doorgaan voor een aanklacht of een eerbetoon. Zo meeslepend en overdonderend maar ook zo ontluisterend is het verhaal over de jongens - twee in het bijzonder - die waren veroordeeld, overgeleverd eigenlijk, tot een vreselijk tuchthuis omdat ze 'ontspoord' zouden zijn. Het prachtig uitgegeven en swingend vertaalde - de dialogen! - boek heeft me urenlang in de greep gehouden om het verdriet en de pijn van de slachtoffers en hoe er continue van hogerhand wordt gestrafd e gebeuld. Sommige scenes zijn bloedstollend, in andere - met name in het eerste en het derde en laatste deel - gloort hoop en overstijgt het doorzettingsvermogen en de vastbereidenheid (van de jongens) even de ellende, de onrechtvaardigheid en het lot. De stijl van Colson Whitehead is zuinig maar warm en innemend, 'direct' en toch literair interessant: nergens staat een zin die 'vergezocht' is en toch ligt niets voor de hand. De onalledaagse en toch gestroomlijnde structuur van het boek is nog een aantrekkingskracht van 'Nickel'. Onvergetelijk.
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  • Megan C.
    January 1, 1970
    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 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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  • Susie Dumond
    January 1, 1970
    News breaks that the bodies of over 40 boys have been excavated on the grounds of an old reformatory school in Florida. Remembering the horrible living conditions and cruel treatment he experienced at the school, a man in New York knows he must come forward to set the record straight.Wow. That's all I can really say after finishing The Nickel Boys. What an incredible follow-up to The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead is truly one of the most incredible authors writing today. With stunning p News breaks that the bodies of over 40 boys have been excavated on the grounds of an old reformatory school in Florida. Remembering the horrible living conditions and cruel treatment he experienced at the school, a man in New York knows he must come forward to set the record straight.Wow. That's all I can really say after finishing The Nickel Boys. What an incredible follow-up to The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead is truly one of the most incredible authors writing today. With stunning prose, unforgettable characters, and a powerful plot that keeps you on your toes, this book feels like a modern classic. This is a story that demands to be told, and I'm so, so grateful that Whitehead chose to tell it.Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Kerry Cochran
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book! One that can't be read straight through. I had to take breaks (sometimes long ones) every couple of chapters to absorb what had happened. I just finished it and still processing. So good but so heartbreaking.
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