Review 1845: The Nickel Boys

The Prologue of The Nickel Boys is chilling in and of itself. The novel is based on investigations into the Dozier School for Boys in Florida, which turned up evidence of mistreatment, torture, and even murder of young boys.

Set mostly in the early 60s, the novel follows Elwood Curtis, a black boy who has been taught to do what is right and who has been inspired by the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. His attitude seems to be working. He is doing well in high school, he has a job with a good boss, and his presence at some demonstrations for equality has earned him an invitation to take college courses.

He is on his way to college for the first night of classes when he accepts a ride from a stranger. Next thing he knows, the car has been pulled over as stolen and he’s been sentenced to the Nickel Academy for Boys.

On his second day, still trying to make sense of things, Elwood steps in to stop some bullying and ends up being beaten senseless by the Director. He spends some time in the infirmary, where the doctor only prescribes aspirin no matter what the problem is.

When he gets out, Elwood is befriended by Turner, who tries to show him how to get by. Turner gets him on Community Service detail, where Elwood observes all the food for the school being sold to restaurants, boys being sent to homes of the board members to do yard work and painting, and other signs of graft and corruption. Elwood writes them all down.

This novel is a searing record of the recent racial history of our country as well as being a story of friendship. It’s a powerful book. It makes me wonder why I haven’t read any Whitehead before.

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6 thoughts on “Review 1845: The Nickel Boys

  1. FictionFan April 27, 2022 / 10:23 am

    I’ve been meaning to read his other best-known book, The Underground Railroad, for years. The subject of it appeals more to me than this one – just a subjective preference. One day I’ll fit it in! lad you enjoyed this one – always fun to find a new author with a hefty back catalogue!

    • FictionFan April 27, 2022 / 10:24 am

      That should be “Glad” not “lad”! 😉

      • whatmeread April 27, 2022 / 4:43 pm

        I didn’t even notice, but it’s embarrassing, right? I just wrote “ut,” instead of “but,” but luckily, noticed.

    • whatmeread April 27, 2022 / 4:42 pm

      I have it in my stack, although I was previously avoiding it because of the magical realism aspect of it. Sometimes I’m okay with MR, but most of the time, not! However, once I read this, I went out and bought his more recent book, read that, and bought Underground Railroad.

  2. Marg May 3, 2022 / 4:32 am

    I have had this author on my TBR list for so long!

    • whatmeread May 3, 2022 / 9:56 am

      He’s definitely worth reading. I have read two of his books now, and a third is on my pile.

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