Cool Guy (&Girl) Book Club discussion

The Nickel Boys > PART 1

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message 1: by Ben (last edited Sep 04, 2019 12:05PM) (new)

Ben Gigone | 26 comments Mod
Hi everyone! This thread will be used for the discussion of our September book, the Nickel Boys. There may be spoilers ahead, if you haven't finished Part 1, tread carefully!

I found some discussion questions, feel free to use them as a guide for discussion. All thoughts are welcome!

Were you instantly engaged with the characters and story?

Do you think the prologue helped to set the tone? How did it shape your initial view of Elwood?

Why do you think Colson went through the trouble of showing the readers that Elwood is a good kid?

message 2: by Ben (new)

Ben Gigone | 26 comments Mod
This book has an incredible amount of hype surrounding its importance, and with the accolades it has received thus far, as well as the intense subject matter, I was both excited and hesitant to tuck in to this read!

First off, this book reads well. Whitehead's pacing is wonderful, and his theme of briefly dragging you through Elwood's origins with just enough description to leave you wanting more is a treat. I did do a bit of research prior to reading this novel, and am slightly terrified at where we're heading. This introductory section has the feeling of a pre-holocaust story, with a character finally getting his footing before being unlawfully swept away for no reason better than circumstance of birth.

I want Elwood to succeed desperately, though I must say Whitehead has written this novel as somewhat of a stand-off narrator. While I celebrated with Elwood's college opportunity, and applaud his drive to be apart of a more tolerant America, I feel somehow unattached to Elwood, as if i'm watching from afar. His relationship with his grandmother is touching, and i'm hoping there is a silver lining in this story. Not sure why I have such a bleak view, blame it on the synopsis!

I think the prologue gave me a certain sense of calm, as we're shown an adult Elwood. Though clearly broken and hurting from his past, its comforting to know he makes it through his trials. This may have contributed to my "far-away" feeling. An author's choice to preview the end of the story is interesting, though i'm wary of a twist.

Colson's trouble of showing the readers that Elwood is a good kid, I believe, is done in an attempt to bring us close to the character. It makes us want to fight alongside him, and makes the injustice he experiences seem amplified. While clearly written during a different time in America, it still hurts to imagine the embedded helplessness of the African-American community.

Great start, expecting dark things from here on out! Team Macaroni lol??????

message 3: by Tate (new)

Tate Brombal | 8 comments Enjoying this so far, and I agree with Ben that Whitehead’s pacing and narration is very well done. It’s subtle and to-the-point, adding just the right amount of description and insight into Elwood’s life. I loved the examples of Elwood’s character that Whitehead spins — especially the story of the encyclopedias. What a great way to display Elwood’s earnest, competitive nature while simultaneously revealing how his own community will use and mislead him. Hopefully this earnest, kind heart of his doesn’t continue to get him into trouble but... with how this Part ends, it looks like his problems are only getting much worse.

I also love how Whitehead describes Elwood’s gradual movement into activism, as he slowly feels more and more comfortable within it all. At first he mouthed the words, then he was holding signs and screaming too. He felt like he belonged. It’s all very accurate and relatable with my own experience at picket lines and finding that hope and camaraderie with those you’re fighting alongside.

Part 1 was all very introductory, so I’m looking forward for the story to really kick off.

Overall: I’ve been wanting to read Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, so I’m extremely happy that this is the month’s book! I’m looking forward to learning more about this terrible piece of history — but also to acknowledge and see how much this history still seeps into the present. While we might be alarmed at how our fellow human beings were treated during Jim Crow, how much has really changed for black Americans/Canadians? Whitehead has very purposefully written this book at this time, so I’ll be looking for connections there.

message 4: by Earl (new)

Earl (earlgray) | 25 comments Mod
A special thank you to Ben for choosing another excellent title, you had a tough job keeping pace with last month's book which I believed to be a huge success.

I like both of you was not instantly engaged with these any of these characters as i've never faced any racial discrimination in my life. However after reading more into part one I did connect with Elwood being competitive and constantly worrying about past social situations that I may or may not have done or said the right thing.

I hate prologues, just call it chapter one. I did enjoy the factualness of the so called prologue but I hate that I know so much about the ending.

Whitehead wants to show you that in that time, it didn't matter how polite or how well you were brought up in that era, if you had a darker shade of skin you were looked down on and treated poorly.

I'm just okay with whiteheads writing style, at some points I find myself rereading a paragraph just to make things crystal clear. But I am enjoying the pace of the introduction.

Team Mr. Hill!

message 5: by Earl (new)

Earl (earlgray) | 25 comments Mod
Also sorry for the poor grammer and word creation, I really should write these pieces somewhere else and look them over before posting. I hate that you can't edit a comment once it's sent or even delete ...

message 6: by Blayne (new)

Blayne Smith | 11 comments Hard to engage I feel the character is too flat in terms of his emotions and does not feel the way I would expect. Plus I find the appearance and descriptions of extra characters that don’t play important roles in the story takes away from the overall plot and main characters.

I see Elwood’s point of view in a lot of ways but it’s difficult to imagine being in his shoes. He is tragic almost defeated before he had a chance. I like that he’s found motivation on a reputable character in Dr king.

I think the final question reflects the flaws in a system that looks at race over all else including someone’s character. This can be seen in terms of imagining that Elwood was Caucasian. I think had he been in that predicament and explained his situation his race would have helped him “get out of jail free” due to his upstanding citizen status. Instead his race wound up being a “go directly to jail do not pass go, do not collect 200$ card.”

message 7: by Cullen (new)

Cullen Cousins  (booksbycull) | 5 comments 1. I was not instantly engaged with the characters. It took me to the end of part one to really be devoted to Elwood. Now I’m a lot more interested in what will happen. The writing is good and maybe this is how Colson wanted it to be but he definitely made my attachment to Elwood wait. I found the other characters a bit more engaging right off the bat such as Mr. Marconi and Mr. Hill specifically.

2. I’m not sure if I loved the prologue. I feel like it was a bit unessecary and didn’t give me anything to help with reading part one.

3. I think Colson wanted to be able to contrast Elwood with other people maybe? I’m writing this after I’ve read part two so it makes my answer a bit different. Showing Elwood was a completely good kid would make readers have more sympathy for him possibly.

Overall I have a lot of questions for this book, not sure I love Colson’s writing so far :(

message 8: by Tanner (new)

Tanner Vandenberg | 20 comments Wrote this before reading anyone elses comments, so I may repeat some opinions.

1. I settled into the story rather easily, there was definitely interest as I flipped through the pages but I wouldn't say I connect with the characters, especially Elwood too much in the beginning. Elwood's character seems to be rather flat, but that's kind of who he is in society. It wasn't untill he started going to protests that he started to develop something of an identity. I'm thinking this is Whitehead's intent, have blank character with some underlying righteous qualities be tested by harsh circumstances and find his identity.

2. The prologue definitely help set the tone, In the sense that you have a glimpse of the end result, and you are going to be fed breadcrumbs along the way. I'm struggling to build a good framework of Elwood character, right now he seems like a tragic observer with a sense of duty and the prologue set that up.

3. Colson is trying to build up some empathy towards Elwood, rather straightforward. The author is showing the brutality and simple unfairness of the times. A good kid has to turn a blind eye to wrong doings inorder to stay on "his" side.

Overall I'm happy with the book thus far. There is a good flow to it and enough intrigue to keep me flipping through pages. The generally theme isn't overly dark, as one might expect, but is rather emotionally numb.

The subject matter is always a hard one to dive into. On one hand, it's rather difficult for me to relate to, and on the other there is guilt when looking on the reality of our societies past. Gives one something to contemplate and a sense of gratitude for were we are now.

I'm eager to continue.

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