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The Nickel Boys

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4.27  ·  Rating details ·  128,920 ratings  ·  13,567 reviews
Winner of the 2020 Pulizer Prize for Fiction.

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 a high school senior about to start class
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Hardcover, First Edition, 213 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Doubleday Books
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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.

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.27  · 
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 ·  128,920 ratings  ·  13,567 reviews


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Nilufer Ozmekik
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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Roxane
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kat
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
with a tightly plotted and masterfully crafted story, this book absolutely demands to be read. i can only say that i think it would have benefitted from a less nonfiction-esque writing style at times, but even with my writing preferences i definitely see why this has received so much praise and would recommend it to anyone.
Paromjit
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize!

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 mor
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Robin
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
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Zoë
[Book #3 for my grad school YA class]
This book has left me speechless. It will absolutely stick with me for a long time. Please read this and research the Dozier School for Boys!
Elyse  Walters
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick update:
Meeting Colson Whitehead last night was great.
He was so hilarious!!! I don’t think one person in the room expected him to be as funny as he was. A gorgeous man - funnier than any of us could imagine.
He stayed away from the seriousness of the topics in his books.

A little quote from Colson about book genres.
Colson said there are only 2 types of books in the world: “those you like, and those you don’t”.

Super man...
Super author...
Super fun listening to him speak.


Audiobook…narrate
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chai ♡
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 pages 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
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Cindy
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars for a great book and sad times all around. Appreciate the way the main characters question Dr. King’s notion of still loving those who are cruel to you. Elwood’s precociousness and Turner’s heroism are so admirable and endearing. The plot twist is great too. Whitehead is a skilled writer but I do wish his prose opened up to more of Elwood’s emotional psyche rather than his journalistic tone, which limits the internal narrative and emotional experience. Since this is a story based on re ...more
Beata
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
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Brandice
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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Bianca
What's happening? Why was I bored by a book so many loved, especially since its subject should have affected me a great deal? The introduction was promising. The novel itself left me disconnected and detached, not to mention I had this nagging feeling that I'd read this story before.
The writing was straight forward if I'm being honest, I expected it to be a bit more literary.
The story is important, kudos to Whitehead for bringing it to our attention. My brain was, of course, horrified, but my h
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Marchpane
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 re
...more
Tucker
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Michael Finocchiaro
I was about as disappointed by this book as I was with the author's Pulitzer winning The Underground Railroad. I know it is a document based on true stories of an awful reform school in Florida (Dozier), but the writing just wasn't that great. There is a shift in perspective near the end that seems to invalidate half of what preceded and besides that, it was fairly predictable. I found the descriptions lackluster, the characters two-dimensional and the plot singularly lacking in structure. I am ...more
D.  St. Germain
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
(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
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Diane S ☔
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Angela M
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t think there is anything original that I can say that hasn’t already been said about this book. I can only add my 5 well deserved stars and repeat what others have said. It’s powerful, painful and such an important book to read. This is a fictional account based on a horrific place, a real place, a reform school in Florida in the 1960’s, where young boys, in particular young black boys were abused physically, sexually, emotionally and in some cases murdered. It’s gut wrenching and heartbr ...more
BernLuvsBooks
5 Harrowing, Heartbreaking and Unforgettable Stars for The Nickel Boys

To say that the abuse, corruption and violence in this book broke my heart and touched me to my core would be a grave understatement. Though it was a work of fiction - just knowing it was based on actual events which occurred at The Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL made it impossible not to think about all the boys that had suffered the kind of gruesome abuse I can not even fathom.

The majority of the story is told from
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Tammy
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
lark benobi
Jul 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
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 wrote Zone One and The Intuitionist. Colson Whitehead is an author with a unique gift, and he belongs in a rarified group of unique, individualistic, contemporary black voices along with Percival Everett and Mat Johnson and Walter Mosley...autho ...more
JanB
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
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Michael
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sue
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
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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
Dem
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dem by: Pam Walter
“If everyone looked the other way, then everybody was in on It. Quote from The Nickel Boys

Wonderful, insightful and based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children. This is a historical fiction that needs to be read and discussed and I am grateful to my Goodreads friend Pam for recommending this one to me

I thought that the ugly history of reform schools and mother and baby homes were just part of
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Jen
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Nickel academy is one fucking scary reform school in 1960’s Florida, where blacks were very much discriminated against.
Rather than going to Juvie, troubled boys were sent here. Corporal punishments being handed out more than a washroom pass.

Elwood, a young boy of 16 hoping to go to college with his big dreams and Martin Luther king playing in his head, hitches a ride unknowingly in a stolen car. And his sentence to the Nickel academy begins. where one rare friendship is made.
Here kids are b
...more
Andy Marr
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Immediately after finishing this book, I realised that I had goosepimples on my arms. That was five minutes ago, and they're still there now. I'm not sure if they were the result of how traumatised the story left me, or because of how incredibly beautiful those final pages were. I think it might be both of these things at once.

I can honestly say that I have never been left more shaken by a story. I have also never read anything more breathtakingly well-written. I am utterly in awe of Mr Whitehea
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Liz
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2020
Five sorrowful stars
This book is as sad as anything, but yet needs to be read. Elwood Curtis is an intelligent young black man in the 1960s. He’s bound for college, but he picks the wrong car to hitchhike in and next thing, he’s in Nickel School, a boy’s reformatory in Florida. A school where corporal punishment is given for the slightest infractions. And sometimes, the boys just never come back to the dorm.
As before, Whitehead has written a book that blends emotion and intellect and makes you
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Meike
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read, usa
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2020
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
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9,315 followers
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

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