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Archive: Other Books > The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead - 4 stars

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Joy D | 5634 comments The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead - 4 stars

PBT Comments: While this book contains crime, I wouldn't call it "crime fiction," since there is no investigation and no one is ever called to account for the child abuse depicted in this novel. It would be a good one to read for next month's American History tag if you're looking for a fictional story based on a real place. If we could award half-stars, I'd give it 4.5.

Set mostly in the 1960s in the Jim Crow American south, two black teens struggle to endure their time at an abusive reform school. The two young men, Elwood and Turner, approach life from different perspectives. Elwood is an idealist, inspired by Martin Luther King’s eloquent speeches about dreams and a brighter future. Turner is a cynic, disillusioned and angered by his experiences.

The following illustrates these conflicting points of view in one character’s inner dialogue:
“The world had whispered its rules to him for his whole life and he refused to listen, hearing instead a higher order. The world continued to instruct: Do not love for they will disappear, do not trust for you will be betrayed, do not stand up for you will be swatted down. Still he heard those higher imperatives: Love and that love will be returned, trust in the righteous path and it will lead you to deliverance, fight and things will change.”

The author packs considerable content into a compact, concise book of just over 200 pages. Whitehead’s narrative elicits feelings of unfairness at young men punished for crimes not committed, and outrage at the abusive treatment they receive. Themes include friendship, social justice, powerlessness, and institutionalized racism.

My only minor complaint with the book is one of the turns it takes near the end, where the tone is less optimistic than I had hoped, but the message is strong and relevant. Whitehead pays tribute to the dozens of children buried in unmarked graves, and those who suffered horrific abuse in a real institution in Florida on which this book is based.

Link to My GR Review

Booknblues | 7654 comments I loved this book. (view spoiler)

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 6824 comments Great review Joy. I like this author a lot, and I moved this book higher up my list. I also want to read his book The Intuitionist.

Meli (melihooker) | 3929 comments I loved this too (view spoiler)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7960 comments I am listening to this one on audio right now! Meli's earlier review convinced me to finally get to it. I haven't had much listening time lately, but I will be in the car for 4 hours tomorrow so I should be able to get through a lot of it!

Joy D | 5634 comments Thanks for the comments! I think this one would be great for a book club discussion. I almost gave it 5 stars. In general, (view spoiler)

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