The Nickel Boys

This small book is big on heart and filled with the promise of freedom and survival…even in the darkest moments. Whitehead proves himself to be a brilliant storyteller who takes the most horrid details of discovery and turns them into a soaring tale of grit.

There are big forces that want to keep the Negro down, like Jim Crow, and there are small forces that want to keep you down, like other people, and in the face of all those things, the big ones and the smaller ones, you have to stand up straight and maintain your sense of who you are.

— Colson Whitehead

Synopsis:

Elwood Curtis is a bright and rule-following boy. Abandoned by his parents and raised by his strict grandmother, he’s grown up observing the ways of the world. He has a job and wants to take classes at the local college before he graduates high school. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the 1960s, even following the rules isn’t a promise of a simple future. When a misjudgment lands him in the Nickel Academy, his future seems bleak. A place of horrors masquerading as a reform school, beatings and sexual abuse by the staff are nothing compared to the threat of disappearing “out back.” Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. Martin Luther King’s optimistic words for strength, while his new (more realistic) friend Turner thinks you have to avoid trouble to survive. A fateful decision made by the two boys will resonate through the decades…

because for him to do nothing was to undermine his own dignity.

— Colson Whitehead

Review:

Oooooh my heart. This book has taken me a week to get around to talking about. It’s so heavy and tragic and infuriating and shocking. My heart honestly felt heavy at times, and my stomach hurt, and my body didn’t want to move. Physical manifestations of the depressing and bleak tone of this book.

AND – I love the heart and grit behind the boys in this book. Yes, they are fictional. But this story is based on TRUE ACCOUNTS and ACTUAL BODIES FOUND at a state-run reform school that was no better than a cover for abuse and child labor. Colson Whitehead thoroughly did his research and incorporated descriptions of the bleak living conditions and modes of punishment. And he even surprised me with a nice twist that gave me goosebumps – I had to shut the book for a moment and stare, through tear-soaked eyes, into the middle distance to gather my broken thoughts.

You can change the law but you can’t change people
and how they treat each other.

— Colson Whitehead

I am appalled and distraught that human beings can treat each other so poorly, can look down at someone as an animal beneath them, can harm other bodies so callously and brutally. As sickened as I was to read what was done to those boys (who all just needed love, trust, and a chance for a better future), I can’t help but be hopeful that this truth-telling will pave the way for other people to unload their burdens of the past and move on to a more healing future.

Overall, this small book was big on heart and filled of the promise of freedom and survival…even in the darkest moments. Whiteheads proves himself a brilliant story-teller who takes the most horrid details of discovery and turns them into a soaring tale of grit. Read this story. Be a witness.

If it is true for you, it is true for someone else, and you are no longer alone.

— Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys
by Colson Whitehead
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Doubleday Books

Summary

Overall, this small book was big on heart and filled of the promise of freedom and survival...even in the darkest moments. Whitehead proves himself to be a brilliant storyteller who takes the most horrid details of discovery and turns them into a soaring tale of grit. Read this story. Be a witness.

— Cassie
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