The Nickel boys A novel

Colson Whitehead, 1969-

Book - 2019

In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad, 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.00As 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 p...arents, 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."00In 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.00The 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.

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Subjects
Genres
Historical fiction
Bildungsromans
Published
New York : Doubleday [2019]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
213 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780385537070
0385537077
9780345804341
0345804341
9780385693967
0385693966
Main Author
Colson Whitehead, 1969- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* There were rumors about Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school, but survivors kept their traumas to themselves until a university archaeology student discovered the secret graveyard. Whitehead follows his dynamic, highly awarded, best-selling Civil War saga, The Underground Railroad (2016), with a tautly focused and gripping portrait of two African American teens during the last vicious years of Jim Crow. There is no way Elwood Curtis would ever have become a Nickel Boy if he was white. Raised by his strict grandmother, Elwood, who cherishes his album of recorded Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, is an exemplary student who earns admission to early college classes. But trouble whips up out of thin air, and instead he is sent to Nickel, where the Black boys are barely fed, classes are a travesty, and the threat of sexual abuse and torture is endemic. As Elwood tries to emulate Dr. King's teachings of peace and forgiveness, he is befriended by the more worldly and pragmatic Turner, and together they try to expose the full extent of the brazenly racist, sadistic, sometimes fatal crimes against the Nickel Boys. Whitehead's magnetic characters exemplify stoicism and courage, and each supremely crafted scene smolders and flares with injustice and resistance, building to a staggering revelation. Inspired by an actual school, Whitehead's potently concentrated drama pinpoints the brutality and insidiousness of Jim Crow racism with compassion and protest.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: After the resounding triumph of Whitehead's previous novel, readers will avidly await this intense drama, a scorching work that will generate tremendous media coverage. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Having claimed multiple awards (including the Pulitzer) and over a million in sales across formats for The Underground Railroad, his ripped-gut portrait of American slavery, Whitehead now assays segregation through the experiences of young Tallahassee, FL, resident Elwood Curtis. In the 1960s, Elwood is college-bound until he makes a mistake that lands him at a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose staff profess to shape inmates into upstanding young men but who routinely deliver vicious beatings and sexual abuse and make sure resisters disappear forever. The shocked Elwood takes Martin Luther Kings' pacifist approach to events, but friend Turner has other ideas. Whitehead researched the Florida Industrial School for Boys (later the Dozier Academy), where a secret mass grave was found after its 2011 closure. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

"As it had ever been with Nickel, no one believed them until someone else said it," Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) writes in the present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel. Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel's upstanding reputation in the community, the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys—especially the black boys—suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner's struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood's adult life, showing how the physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead's brilliant examination of America's history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight. (July) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Follows the experiences of two African-American teenagers at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning, The Underground Railroad, follows the harrowing experiences of two African-American teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this Pulitzer Prize-winning follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 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 and “should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation's best" (Entertainment Weekly). Look for Colson Whitehead’s bestselling new novel, Harlem Shuffle!