The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

A Novel

Book - 2019
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"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."--Publisher.
Publisher: [Toronto] : Bond Street Books, 2019
Branch Call Number: FICTION WHI
Characteristics: 213 p. ; 22 cm


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SJPLDfournier Nov 10, 2019

Travel back in time and see inside a dark establishment that managed to "rehabilitate" children for 111 years. The characters here and story line are fictitious. But the reality may have been far worse.

Oct 30, 2019

Such a great book!

Chapel_Hill_KrystalB Oct 28, 2019

This book is heart AND gut wrenching. Be prepared for many feelings. The story is solid, though, and really worth a read. I am still reeling from an unexpected turn of events. Just like Underground Railroad, this one sticks with you. Colson Whitehead… so good.

Oct 28, 2019

Excellent! Liked it better than Underground Railroad.

Oct 19, 2019

For Feb 18 Newcomers (Marie)

Oct 07, 2019

African-American author of the recent Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Award for "The Underground Railroad" writes another novel about America's shameful past based on true events at a boys' reform school in 1960's (Jim Crow era) Florida. Colson Whitehead is an amazing writer! The horrifying events are written in such an understated way that it makes the horror even worse.

Oct 02, 2019

Powerful . . . there are no 'reparations' for this sort of inhumanity

Read this after "The Underground Railroad" which I read but do not remember detail of . . . was recommended by BHObama

Should consider one of earlier novels? "Sag Harbor"?

STPL_Kerry Oct 01, 2019

WOW. This book evokes strong emotions - disbelief, anger, disgust, pity and hope to name a few. It is a haunting novel inspired by true events--I found it deeply moving and deeply disturbing. It was a hard read but an important one. The ending was unexpected and it threw me--I had a literal ache in my chest by the time I read the last page. This is without a doubt a must-read.

ArapahoeAnnaL Sep 19, 2019

The main character, Elwood, is a high school student in 1962, living in a Black neighborhood in Tallahassee, conscientious and thoughtful, happy enough with life but stung by the humiliations imposed by the Jim Crow south and inspired by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Less than a quarter of the way into the story we find out how vulnerable and tentative this life actually was. When Elwood finds himself in an abusive and dangerous boys' reform school Whitehead keeps the writing matter of fact so that the rage and horror fall to the reader. Despite the reality of life in the south, Elwood clings to a belief in American justice. Elwood's idealism and the friendship he finds balance the dark events depicted.

Life in an abusive and dangerous boys' reform school is an allegory of life in the Jim Crow south.

Sep 17, 2019

Listened to an interview on NPR this summer and said to myself I didn't want to read about the unfortunate Nickel Boys and the people who abused them. It's been a year of awful revelations in the news, and I am just going to skip this book. I relented a few months later and put it on hold. It's excellent, you'll be rooting for Elwood, socked by his twist of fate, rooting again for him to escape, and finally shocked by the surprise ending. It's tough to understand that this novel was based on "real-life" reform school—Dozier in Florida. History can be hard. It's important to write the truth about all of it.

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ArapahoeAnnaL Sep 19, 2019

The more routine his days, the more unruly his nights. He woke after midnight, when the dormitory was dead, starting at imagined sounds -- footsteps at the threshold, leather slapping the ceiling. He squinted at the darkness--nothing. Then he was up for hours, in a spell, agitated by rickety thoughts and weakened by an ebbing of the spirit....In keeping his head down in his careful navigation so that he made it to lights-out without mishap, he fooled himself that he had prevailed. That he had outwitted Nickel because he got along and kept out of trouble. In fact he had been ruined. He was like one of those Negroes Dr. King spoke of in his letter from jail, so complacent and sleepy after years of oppression that they had adjusted to it and learned to sleep in it as their only bed. pg. 156

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