Colson Whitehead is one impressive writer and his second novel The Nickel Boys shows you just how good he is at story telling. There are some good writers and then there are writers who can paint a story with just words and Whitehead belongs in that elite catagory.
Released in 2019, The Nickel Boys follows Elwood Curtis, an African American teenage boy residing in Tennessee who gets falsely arrested and is sent to Nickel Academy, a reform school for delinquents. The school has unethical ways of keeping the students checked and we see Elwood’s beliefs challenged by institutional racism and dark horrors in Nickel Academy. We also meet Jack Turner who Elwood befriends. They have opposite views and play a big role is showcasing two different approaches to life as an African American in America in the 1960’s.
Whitehead previously wrote The Underground Railroad and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for it. Nickel Academy went on to also win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2020, making him the fourth author ever to win that award twice. As someone who has read both books, I can tell you they were all deserved.
This novel is based on a real school called Dozier School which was a reform school in Florida that has a dark history that has been exposed recently. I will link to an article here. Whitehead took a sensitive issue and brought light to it while also telling a great story while also covering the plight of African Americans suffering from institutional and systematic racism.
I was moved by this book and was taken away. While the story itself is tragic, Whitehead makes us relate to Elwood and Jack and all the boys that suffered in the sadistic school under horrible guidance and horrible checks and balances from the city of Florida. I would recommend this book to everyone and it is relevant as to what is happening recently with the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is necessary.