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The Nickel Boys > PART 3

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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben Gigone | 26 comments Mod
Rounding out this read! Definitely a heavier subject matter than last month, and an important story overall. Can't wait to hear everyone's final thoughts.

What are your thoughts about Elwood invoking MLK's, "the capacity to suffer" quote, and how that relates to his experience at Nickel school?

What main emotions did you feel following the story's end?


message 2: by Ben (new)

Ben Gigone | 26 comments Mod
I feel like i’m facing a potentially alarming crisis after finishing this book. I felt oddly disconnected through the end, and even registered the plot twist with little emotion. I couldn’t shake the “bystander” feeling, and, though I believe as an unintended effect by the author, wonder if that speaks volumes as to how these terrible misdeeds were able to propagate so freely for so many years. I read a multitude of reviews before opening the novel and wanted to feel as haunted and devastated as those who read before, but strangely was not. If I am a terrible person for not connecting at least I am relatively self-aware.

To Whitehead’s credit, this is an important book and excellently outlines the horrors of the state of “juvenile correction” in America, particularly pertaining to the African-American community. I will say I absolutely did not see that twist coming. I was immensely unsatisfied that our last connection with Elwood is one of brokenness in his cell, and I believe it a smart move by the author to highlight the escape through the eyes of Turner.

Elwood’s commitment and willingness to suffer was extraordinary, and I think an incredible lesson can be learned from this novel. One might argue his individual suffering made no difference in the plight for equality, but I believe (as I think Elwood did as well) that great change is made by individuals doing just that, willing to truly suffer for a cause, regardless of circumstance, in hope of a brighter future.

Within the novel, Elwood’s death triggered the most emotions out of me, as I desperately wanted freedom, reunion with his Grandmother, reunion with Mr. Hall, something more. His story ends so abruptly that I found myself searching some sort of closure.

I want to pose another question after reading the end of this book. If any other felt disconnected from the characters like I did, how were we (collectively) so drawn in to rooting for Kya’s happiness in WTCS, but lack real character connection in The Nickel Boys? Curious to read everyone’s thoughts on this!


message 3: by Earl (last edited Oct 20, 2019 02:29PM) (new)

Earl (earlgray) | 25 comments Mod
Glad I'm finished with this one.

I enjoyed all the MLK quotes and admired how much Elwood looked up to this man as he was a great man to look up to. He followed MLK's instructions and took all his advice so literally. He wanted change so bad as did MLK but Elwood was just a boy and in a bad spot. Was handing in the letter then the right move? Was his sacrifice a significant moment for change? I believe Elwood lived and died for what he believed in but Elwood was a teenage boy that probably should have kept his head down until he was in a better spot to fight back against this evil reform school. He went and got himself killed knowing that would probably be the outcome. Bravory or stupidity??? or a little bit of both. I agreed with Turner when he said that he should have burned the letter and not handed it in.

I thought the end was weird as the twist happened and I wasn't too shocked, I felt very little. I did appreciate that there was some sort of twist but it seemed hurried and non surprising. Cut out the epilogue , leave the rest to the readers imagination. No need to tell us how Turner used Elwoods name out of respect ... I think as a reader who just read a horrifying story about children who were abused and murdered would understand and grasp the concept of why he used Elwoods alias while on the run.

I think Tate said it best, writing this story in 3rd person narrative kept us distant from Elwoods real emotion and the lack of detail within the scenes made it easier to read through without putting yourself in Elwoods shoes. Kind of like when someone tells you a story you've already heard before and you know what's gonna happen. Things were kind of made obvious. Opposed to Kyas story in the swamp, everything was a discovery and you were brought along for the ride through Kyas eyes and the writer took her time to develope wonderful scenery and character development.

Another successful month of book club I think I'm glad I read the nickel boys to gain a deeper respect and perspective of the events that took place back in the day and am relieved to see we are doing much better today at least to my knowledge. But who knows maybe we aren't .


message 4: by Tanner (new)

Tanner Vandenberg | 20 comments All and all, loved the concept of the book, truly glad to have learned a sliver of truth regarding a dark and ugly past, did not love the delivery. But maybe that was the authors intent? As Ben put it, you are a bystander to this story, seemingly powerless to stop it, quickly moving onward to the next part while tragedies are swept under the rug.

I too feel frustrated that a deeper emotional cord wasn't struck reading the Nickel Boys, which also has me questioning my capacity of empathy towards the topic of racial inequality.

1. The "capacity to suffer" quote in the end was really tragic end to Elwood's character arc. He had given up, he couldn't make the jump to love is oppressors. This is probably the darkest moment in the book in retrospect, but you can't blame Elwood. In his attempt to break the wheel of suffering and free everyone, black and white, from Nickel's torment, he is punished and all signs point towards a cruel death. Broken in spirit, the words and teaching of his idol no longer show him the way. The death of Elwood was in this moment.
If I'm being honest, I reread this paragraph with the MLK quote to answer this question. First read I did not absorb the true meaning of Elwood's response. I was rather disconnected to the story by this point, which is internally upsetting, but true.

2. Honestly my main emotions are frustratation towards the fact that this book could be so much better. The writing seemed busy and not plot forwarding. I felt kept at arm's length from the characters and plot throughout most of the book.

At the start of part 3, I was very confused by older "Elwood". He lacked a certain intelligence and seemed to have slid so far back with his smoking and drinking habits. At first I thought it tragic but something just felt wrong. I pieced it together by the end of the Date night chapter that we were following Turner not Elwood. So even the big twist wasn't even a twist.

Overall I'm frustrated at myself complaining about the writing and not being more focused on the reality brought forward by this book. I guess poor story telling will destroy even the strongest message.

3. (Ben's allusive 3rd question)
WTCS brought us into the mind of Kya and gave us the "Honey I shrunk the audience - live and 3D" theatre experience. Nickel boys kept us at arm's length of an emotionally bland character. Perspectives were swapped on a dime, shifting the tone in a way which just confused and disconnect the reader. WTCS made each chapter feel like a discovery. Nickel Boys was stretched out, and each chapter left like a chore.


I'm glad to have read this book. Overall it's taught me more about writing styles and how readers will respond to different approaches.


message 5: by Tate (new)

Tate Brombal | 8 comments I might be in the minority, but Part 3 was my favourite bit from this novel. It all seemed to click a bit better, and I did find myself emotionally invested by the end. I also *again* may be in the minority, but the twist did pleasantly surprise me as I began piecing it together just as the death happened. So I did enjoy that, and it definitely made sense.

Overall, I do think this novel could’ve used one more draft. There were many moments that I felt were rushed — most notably the final death scene. The characters and emotions could’ve definitely been developed and expanded as well. I worry that this book’s development was a bit expedited as Whitehead hoped to follow up the commercial and critical success of The Underground Railroad quickly.

I did enjoy Nickel Boys in the end, and I am much wiser about this terrible piece of history. It’s also not lost on me how much this history continues to seep into the present. America (and Canada) has a very real problem with their prison-industrial complex and the modernized slavery it produces on the backs of racialized men and women. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I implore you to watch Ava DuVernay’s incredible and poignant documentary “13th.” It’s truly eye-opening and it’s on Netflix, so watch it ASAP!


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