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The Nickel Boys

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  18,603 ratings  ·  2,847 reviews
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
Kindle Edition, 224 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Doubleday
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Lisa Williams He was a black boy in the Jim Crow South. No further explanation needed. There would not have been any opportunity for anyone to stand up for him, nor…moreHe was a black boy in the Jim Crow South. No further explanation needed. There would not have been any opportunity for anyone to stand up for him, nor would they even try to get involved. If you have to ask this question, you probably aren't going to "get" the story at all.(less)
Amber It is just mentioned, thankfully. The physical abuse has more detail, but not in an exploitative or overly graphic way.

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4.34  · 
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 ·  18,603 ratings  ·  2,847 reviews

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Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved this novel. It is rich with detail, the plot twists in a really interesting way, the novel's structure is pretty brilliant and overall, this is an ambitious book that was really well executed. It is a coming of age story where that coming of age is warped by the atrocities of a school for boys in segregated Florida. As Elwood awakens to the civil rights movement, he is stripped of nearly all his rights. The more he understands the freedom he deserves, the less freedom he has and that jux ...more
Colson Whitehead confirms his position as a phenomenal writer with this ostensibly heartbreaking and harrowing fictional storytelling, but which is informed by the darkest, most shameful, and ugliest period of American history explored through the lives of two young boys, set in the early 1960s Civil Rights time and all the horrors of the Jim Crow era in Frenchtown, segregated Tallahassee, Florida. Whitehead writes in understated and subtly nuanced prose, all the more effective in delivering its ...more
Nilufer Ozmekik
Five blood freezing, rage boiler, pump squeezer, creator of several lumps on your throat, tear jerker, wake up call for all the injustice, unacceptable, unfair wrongdoings of the system stars!

As soon as I closed the book, I just sat for at least two hours, paralyzed, did nothing, lost, confused, agitated, speechless, deeply, wholeheartedly, painfully sorry for the characters and all the suffering they had to endure. The worst thing is I didn’t read a fiction, I definitely read something based o
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Before starting this novel, I had read several interviews with Colson Whitehead, and reading them added to my understanding of THE NICKEL BOYS. Mr Whitehead chose to write about a piece of history which even he had known nothing about before 2014: a reform school for boys which operated for decades and where children were treated with cruelty and brutality.
A deeply disturbing and shocking novel about two black boys in the 1960s who are sent to the so-called reform school, The Nickel Academy, wh
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
True to form, Colson Whitehead delivers another well-written, deep story that while incredibly devastating, deserves to be told. The Nickel Boys is fictional account based on the true, horrifying Dozier School for Boys in good ol’ Florida, which Whitehead references at both the beginning and end of the book.

”You can hide a lot in an acre, in the dirt.”

I was immediately a fan of Elwood, the main character, a virtuous teenage student, following rules, respecting authority, and admiring Dr. Marti
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A world of injustice or the truer, biding world?

The Nickel Boys melds When They See Us with The Shawshank Redemption and Colson Whitehead’s faultless instincts as a novelist. Some books are 5 stars because they strike a chord with your own specific reading tastes; some are 5 stars because they are so good everybody should read them. This book is firmly in the latter category.

The Nickel Boys is about a reformatory school for boys (effectively a prison) during the Jim Crow years, based on a real
D.  St. Germain
(revised review - 5 stars)

“It was quite a sight, all the boys, big and small, hustling in unified purpose, paint on their chins, the chucks wobbling as they ferried the cans of Dixie.”

As part of their “community service,” The Nickel Boys paint buildings Dixie White, while avoiding sadistic and potentially fatal beatings delivered via a leather strap named Black Beauty. The boys, “cheaper than a dime-a-dance and you got more for your money, or so they used to say,” are in segregated juvenile det
Diane S ☔
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
Tallahassee, Florida, 1960's and Elwood a young black boy has big plans. He believes MLK that change is coming soon, that non violence and forgiveness with eventually free their people. Allow them the same rights as whites. But, this is the Jim Crow south and Elwood, with a belief in his bright future, will find himself in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sent to the Nickel Academy, said to be a place that straightens out those on the wrong place. As Elwood tries to survive in this hellish pl ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Florida Dozier School for Boys opened in 1900 and didn’t close until 2011. In this novel, it is renamed the Nickel Academy and the story is partially based upon true events that took place during the early 1960’s. Some of the boys, both black and white, had committed crimes while others didn’t have families or were runaways. The school didn’t provide an academic education or help of any kind. Instead, these young boys (ages 18-21) were subjected to brutal beatings, sexual abuse, and unimagin ...more
Chaima ✨ شيماء
The thought of this book stirs up a pain so sharp it almost seems my flesh lay open.

There is so much I can’t figure out how to say in words right now. My heart feels as raw as a burn; a feeling made all the more resonant by the realization that the story is inspired by true events, that it captures between its page the remembered violence of America's history—fathomless and ugly.

Colson Whitehead refuses to do their reader the dishonor of the lies, the comfortable omissions, and I'm glad for it.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Words fail me in trying to express how good this book is. What I can say is go buy and read it immediately. I read it over a week ago and it is still running through my mind. I anticipate it will continue to do so for quite some time. The best book I’ve read this year, and I’ve read quite a few. A don’t miss read.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reads

Man’s inhumanity to man never fails to devastate me. Maybe my emotions are particularly raw this week but this book destroyed me. In a good way, as this is a story that needs to be told.

The Nickel Academy is a true House of Horrors and the injustices done to the boys who resided there are mind-boggling. Although this is a piece of fiction, it is based on real events. The Nickel Boys is a fictionalized version of the Dozier School for Boys, i.e. Nickel Academy, which closed in 2011. The beatings,
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Harrowing and bleak, The Nickel Boys takes place at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, but the novel depicts an entrenched system of institutionalized racism that’s nearly as brutal and dehumanizing as slavery itself. The story follows Elwood, an idealistic young man preparing to attend college when a tragic misunderstanding lands him in an inhumane reformatory school, the Nickel Academy. The crux of the plot hinges on whether or not Elwood can survive the academy with his ide ...more
Read By RodKelly
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In Colson Whitehead's latest historical masterpiece, a horrific, real-life reform school for boys in Florida is fictionalized as The Nickel Academy, a century-old institution where teenage boys, black and white, are sent for the slightest crimes: truancy, petty theft, "disrespecting" a white person, or even the crime of being abandoned by their parents. Extreme abuse, rape, racism, and brutal murder are ruling principles, and the only way to escape is to run away or suffer death at the hands of ...more
The Nickel Boys, a book about the horrors of a fictional reformatory school in 1960s Southern USA, was my first experience reading Colson Whitehead. I was excited to read this literary powerhouse, author of nine novels, one of which won the Pulitzer prize in 2017.

As I dug into the book, I recognised right away that it is written very well - some might say flawlessly. In fact I wouldn't dare to critique it on that level. Its structure, pacing, etc are exemplary.

Exemplary, yet, I was left wanting
This book gives you the biggest slap in the face reality check you’ll ever want to experience.

This is fiction based on fact. I really don’t think I’d have survived for long in these times of black (coloured) vs white folk. I just see people. I don’t see race, creed, religion or any diversity. Just people.
Good or bad and indeed in this book.....darn right evil.

Based around 2 people primarily .

Elwood is a kind ordainary guy. He’s clever, he’s smart and a hardworking guy.

But one day, wrongly, he ge
‘Sometimes they take you to the White House and we never see your ass again.
. . .
Your family asks the school what happened and they say you ran away,’
Turner said.
. . .
‘It’s not how it’s supposed to be,’ Elwood said.

‘Don’t nobody care about supposed-to.’

Based on a real place, the Nickel Academy is a reform ‘school’ in Florida where young Ellwood accidentally finds himself in the early 1960s. He is a bookish boy who lives with his grandmother in New York City and prizes his album of D
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, 2019-read
This book equally moved and infuriated me - why can't we manage to finally render the attitudes discussed in this historical novel, well, historical? "The Nickel Boys" is a written monument to the black boys who - alone and helpless - were subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment in a so-called "reform school", and the perpetrators and enablers of the crimes they endured were the same kind of people who today shout "send her back" and "build the wall" while flaunting their lack of intelligence, ...more
The state opened the school in 1899 as the Florida Industrial School for Boys. "A reform school where the young offender of law, separated from vicious associates, may receive physical, intellectual, and moral training, be reformed and restored to the community with purpose and character fitting for a good citizen, an honorable and honest man with a trade or skilled occupation fitting such person for self-maintenance." The boys were called students, rather than inmates, to distinguish them from ...more
Ron Charles
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“The Nickel Boys” draws its inspiration from incidents of abuse at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, a now-closed reformatory school in Florida that operated for more than a century. Though the facility opened with apparently good intentions to bring a more enlightened approach to the treatment of troubled and orphaned youngsters, it devolved into an underworld of torture, rape and murder. Just last month, Florida officials announced plans to search the campus for more bodies hidden in unmar ...more
Dean the Bibliophage
“We must believe in our souls that we are somebody, that we are significant, that we are worthful, and we must walk the streets of life every day with this sense of dignity and this sense of somebody-ness.”

Colson Whitehead possesses the dexterity and adroitness for writing about delicate subjects and historical periods of cultural and socio-political implication, whether this be freedom and slavery in the nineteenth century – The Underground Railroad was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fi
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-favorites
Once again Whitehead has taken me on a mind-blowing, heart-wrenching journey. The horrifying story of the fictionalized Nickel Academy (based on the Dozier School for Boys) is not a distant slice of history - it took place in my lifetime! The prose is clear and strong and every page is packed with foreboding. I was terrified for Elwood. I read this novel tensely at the edge of my seat - and still Whitehead took me somewhere that shocked me. Brilliant and electrifying.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
‘Even in death the boys were trouble.’

The Nickel Boys opens with an unearthing of bones. In this physical evidence, held and photographed and catalogued, is an impossibility: denial. Cue shock and horror at this ‘revelation’, a ‘hidden’ past in the form of dead black boys.

‘Plenty of boys had talked of the secret graveyard before, but as it had ever been with Nickel, no one believed them until someone else said it’.

Based on the brutal realities of the Dozier School for Boys, the horrors in these
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The Nickel Boys" is haunting and heartbreaking, and had me turning the pages both because I cared so profoundly about Colson Whitehead’s magnificently drawn characters, and because I was raging at the appalling injustice he was chronicling. This is a beautiful book and an important book and, like all of Whitehead’s work, written with grace and beauty and a deep, remarkable imagination.
Gumble's Yard
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Updated with new thoughts.

Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book award and was longlisted for the Booker prize – but as well as its literary prize recognition it gained a number of nominations for Science Fiction prizes and won the prestigious Arthur C Clarke award.

That book, in simple terms, told a familiar story in an unfamilar way.

The sadly familiar story was of brutality on Southern American slave plantations. The unfamilar way was by tu
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Amazing book that deals with America's history of systemic racism and cruelty and both the immediate and long term effects it has on people's lives. I love a book that teaches me about our history, even if that history is appalling. The acts in this book are just inhumane and I am disgusted and heartbroken to know that this fictional story is based on true events of the Florida Dozier School. How can any human even do such awful things to another? Especially children. I will never understand thi ...more
Lark Benobi
I can say unequivocally that this is a well-written book. But maybe because it is grounded in a recent, true story, and maybe because Whitehead doesn't allow himself this time to mess with the facts the way he did in The Underground Railroad, this novel hit me as relatively lifeless, and absolutely predictable.

After getting to the last page and closing the book I discovered I had fallen into a kind of mourning. I missed the "Pre-Underground-Railroad" Colson Whitehead. I missed the author who wr
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Probably the best book I’ve read this year. Phenomenally written and wholly devastating.
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

2.5 Stars

What I picture the reaction of the masses will be when they see this rating . . . . .

In case you aren’t familiar, very briefly The Nickel Boys is “the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.” It is based on a place that actually existed and tells of the “teaching” that went on there. The school was segregated, so the two boys who are the focus of this story are black. Everyone and the
Jessica Woodbury
This is the eighth book by Whitehead that I've read and by now I know what to expect from his fiction. It will be full of perfect sentences that never feel like they're showing off. It will break my heart at least three times in ways that are expected and surprising as a sucker punch. It is best not to come in with any particular expectations, he is the master of any genre he pleases and sometimes a book is not the genre you think it is.

THE NICKEL BOYS is in many ways his most traditional novel.
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I'm the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. I've also written a book of essays about my home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction ac ...more
“We must believe in our souls that we are somebody, that we are significant, that we are worthful, and we must walk the streets of life every day with this sense of dignity and this sense of somebody-ness.” 4 likes
“It was easy to root for the winners. No, he liked the punch-drunk ones, half walking at mile twenty-three, tongues flapping like Labradors. Tumbling across the finish line by hook or by crook, feet pounded to bloody meat in their Nikes. The laggards and limpers who weren’t running the course but running deep into their character—down into the cave to return to the light with what they found. By the time they got to Columbus Circle, the TV crews have split, the cone cups of water and Gatorade litter the course like daisies in a pasture, and the silver space blankets twist in the wind. Maybe they had someone waiting for them and maybe they didn’t. Who wouldn’t celebrate that?” 3 likes
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