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review 2020-04-16 16:27
The Nickel Boys
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

Honestly not much to say besides this book stayed heartbreaking from beginning to end. Whitehead does so much with the language while reading this book you may end up cringing at times. Seeing how boys who were unlucky enough to be sent to the Nickel Academy (white and black) were treated by supposed adults that were supposed to be helping them makes you a bit sick inside after a while. This book reminds me a bit of "Sleepers" though we don't see any justice (or vengeance done). For readers that don't know, Whitehead took inspiration from the Dozier School that was reported about in 2014. Here is a link for those who want to read more, https://www.npr.org/2012/10/15/162941770/floridas-dozier-school-for-boys-a-true-horror-story


"The Nickel Boys" follow Elwood Curtis as he grows up during the Civil Rights Movement. Elwood is always a bit different than others and is doing what he can to be a man like Dr. Martin Luther King preaches about. When he is arrested and sent to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, Elwood sees a side of the world that he never knew existed. He tries to keep his faith about what is fair and not fair and to be the change that Dr. King talks about. We jump into the future at times (1980s and 2014) and we follow a grown man that was also sent to The Nickel Academy.


Elwood made me want to shake him at times. I wanted to tell him to keep his head down and not push for things because he was not in the place to push for me. He was being treated terribly and his dreams of college are derailed. Reading about his young life and how his grandmother raised him after his parents abandoned him made me sad. The other boys we follow in this one have bleak beginnings and endings too. Elwood's one friend in the place, Turner, is cynical because he sees the truth about things a lot sooner than Elwood. There friendship is one of the lightest parts of the novel. Turner is jaded and sometimes wants to hurt Elwood for his faith and beliefs, but he is also protective of him too.


The writing as I said at times is harsh. This book is a lot to read over one sitting. It's fairly short though (over 200 pages) and the flow at times does get a bit jumbled when Whitehead jumps to "present day". When I got to the ending, I did go back and re-read the "present day" sections again with new clarity. 


The setting of The Nickel Academy is the stuff of nightmares.

The ending doesn't leave much for hope, but you get why the character is doing what they are in the end. Even though decades have passed, The Nickel Academy is still haunting them. 

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text 2020-04-16 02:07
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

Wow. This book was heartbreaking. Very good reveals throughout.

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text 2020-04-15 23:01
Reading progress update: I've read 40%.
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

Almost done. This book is so grim.


How far we have not come. 

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review 2019-09-10 23:25
The Nickel Boys
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead
I listened to this novel as I painted our fence in the backyard. This small, section of fence should have taken just a few hours but when I finally made my way back inside, I realized that my morning was gone and I was working into the afternoon. I know for a fact that I’d stopped a few times while painting, as I realized that I had become so involved in the story, that I couldn’t paint and listen at the same time. I guess I had done more reading than painting today but at least the fence was done.
I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was a true story. These individuals were young teens, young men being treated brutally, while everyone turned their backs on them.
As these individuals told their stories, I kept reminding myself that this story had really occurred. This was supposed to be a reform school, a place where change occurs for the better. The boys were at Nickel Academy either because they were orphans or because of their behavior. They didn’t expect to be someone’s target, they didn’t deserve the harsh punishment and the brutality that they received. They most certainly didn’t deserve death.
As I listened, I wondered how much longer the people in charge could continue this practice and get-away with it? Wasn’t there any checks and balances along the way? I cringed to think that these individuals would take their authority further and push the envelope. It angered and frustrated me that some individuals feel they have the right to behave this way to anyone or anything.
I feel that it’s a powerful book, a book that allows their story to be told but now, I have more questions after reading this book, than I did when I first started. 4.5 stars


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review 2019-08-28 23:45
The unfair, brutal history of reform schools comes to life.
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, author; Bahni Turpin, narrator

Nickel Boys is based on a reform school, Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which truly existed in Florida. So, although this is a novel, a work of fiction, the terribly brutal behavior was common practice, the racism and the inequity, and the cruelty was real, and it leaps off the page.

The novel covers about 6 decades in the life of one of the characters, Elwood Curtis, who in the book is black, but in real life, the book is based on a white boy named Jerry Cooper who was running away from home. He was sent to the reform school in 1961, when he was just 16, because although he did not know it, he had hitchhiked in a car that the AWOL driver had stolen. The author has given Elwood, the main character of the novel, his experiences. Elwood was supposed to be on his way to college when he made the mistake of hitchhiking. He was arrested when the police pulled over the car and discovered it was stolen. He was sent to reform school, although he had no knowledge of the theft or the driver.

The effect of societal changes, including the integration of schools, barely influenced Nickel Academy. What went on at that school, knowing now that it went on in reality, will shock most readers. It should encourage them to explore the true story behind this novel. It is hard to believe that such a place with such practices could have existed without the outside world knowing or objecting. It is hard to believe that a justice system could mete out such injustice, without objection, but what happened to Elwood was a symptom of society’s illness. In the book it is a gross miscarriage of justice, made more critical because it was the same in the world of non-fiction. It is a story that cries out to be told in any form. The violence, torture and murder was obviously real as is evidenced by the presence of the bones in the graves of the former “students” that were unearthed there.

While the book is occasionally disjointed with a time line and locale that becomes confused, and with a surprise ending that was unexpected, the overall message is so important, it screams for it to be revealed in the light of day. There are some, possibly still alive, that were complicit because they had to have had knowledge of the existence of such heinous activity. One can only wonder how the evil that drove these men who participated in the grotesque behavior went undiscovered.

Because the message is so important, the quality of the writing, which has been criticized by some, and the lack of enough editing which has also been a concern, pales in importance when compared to the message, rarely aired, about this corrupt and evil school, just one of many that once existed. The history of such places is a scar on the history of the states in which they operated and American society.

If just a portion of what is written on these pages is true, it would be a monumental blight on the history of civil rights.


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