The Nickel Boys: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews


Set during the 1960s in a segregated Tallahassee, Florida, Whitehead's rapturous novel prods us to follow the plight of two young black boys, Elwood and Turner. The unlikely pair meet at the reform school Nickel Academy and learn the hidden horrors of the nefarious institution. Faced with a decision that will tinge the rest of their adult lives, each boy must grapple with exactly the type of person they wish to become. Whitehead's command of structure, deft use of dialogue, and acute understanding of African-American history undulates throughout this work. -Blair

— From Summer Booknotes 2019

Description


In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller 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.

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.

About the Author


Colson Whitehead is the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, he lives in New York City.

Praise For…


"The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact."
- Kirkus Review

"Whitehead follows his dynamic, highly awarded, best-selling Civil War saga, The Underground Railroad, with a tautly focused and gripping portrait of two African American teens during the last vicious years of Jim Crow. . . 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."
- Booklist Online

"Whitehead’s brilliant examination of America’s history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight."
- Publishers Weekly

“A gripping and brilliant novel based on a true story about a boys’ reformatory school in Florida in the 1960s. Whitehead is one of the most daring and gifted authors writing these days, and I will never miss one of his books.”
- Elizabeth Gilbert, author of City of Girls


Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780385537070
ISBN-10: 0385537077
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: July 16th, 2019
Pages: 224