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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead @doubledaybooks @colsonwhitehead

The Nickel Boys
by Colson Whitehead

Thank you Doubleday Books and Astoria Bookshop for this advanced copy.
Out now, this is a book everyone should read.

Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publish Date: July 16, 2019
214 pages
Genres: Cultural, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

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. 

My Review:

Based on real events but fictionalized for the 1960s Martin Luther King/Jim Crow of the South era, this is a book that is five stars because it's a must read for everyone.  This is my first by Whitehead and it most certainly will not be my last.  This one really hits you hard for just being over 200 pages.  

It's harrowing to read about what Elwood, and the people around him, went through simply because of the color of their skin.  While this was written for that time period, it's emotional and provocative and SAD because I envisioned this as a current read as well.  This is the state of our country right now and it breaks my heart.  

Let's talk about Elwood - an innocent kid who worked hard to go against the grain that was given to him and proving himself resilient, determined and resourceful.  Unfortunately, circumstances and his environment worked against him at times and he fell into the wrong place. How do you live in a world where you're expected to keep your head down but need to rise above to make the statement the world needs?

This book will make you furious at times.  It will make your heart break as well.  However, it's the message of hope strewn within that is the star and is something we should all hold on to.


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