Colson Whitehead is one impressive writer and his second novel The Nickel Boys shows you just how good he is. 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.
The Nickel Boys:Summary
Released in 2019, The Nickel Boys follows Elwood Curtis, an African American teenage boy residing in Tennessee. He gets falsely arrested and is sent to Nickel Academy, a reform school for delinquents. The school has many unethical ways of keeping the students in check.
We see Elwood’s beliefs challenged by institutional racism and the dark horrors of Nickel Academy. We also meet Jack Turner who Elwood becomes good friends with. 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 also went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2020. That made him the fourth author ever to win that award twice. As someone who has read both novels, I can tell you they were all well 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 novel and was blown away. The story itself is tragic and Whitehead makes us empathize with all the boys that suffered in the sadistic school. It was possible because of horrible guidance and horrible checks and balances from the city of Florida.
I would recommend this novel to everyone because it is just that good of a novel. Whitehead has something important to say and he makes his point get across well here. We need to look at out dark past and have a honest conversation about it. And the first part of that process is knowing the story and those who died.