Cover image for The Nickel boys : a novel
Title:
The Nickel boys : a novel
ISBN:
9781984892249
Edition:
1st large print ed.
Physical Description:
336 pages (large print) ; 21 cm.
Local Subject:
Summary:
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 about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men." In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Copies
Status
Searching...
Book LP FICTION WHI 0 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book LP FICTION WHI 0 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book LP FICTION WHI 0 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book LP FICTION WHI 0 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book LP FICTION WHI 0 1
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S 10 BEST FICTION BOOKS OF THE DECADE

WINNER OF THE KIRKUS PRIZE

LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad , Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

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 about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.


Author Notes

Colson Whitehead was born on November 6, 1969. He graduated from Harvard College and worked at the Village Voice writing reviews of television, books, and music.

His first novel, The Intuitionist, won the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award. His other books include The Colossus of New York, Sag Harbor, and Zone One. He won the Young Lions Fiction Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for John Henry Days, the PEN/Oakland Award for Apex Hides the Hurt, and the National Book Award for fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Underground Railroad.

His reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's and Granta. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

"As it had ever been with Nickel, no one believed them until someone else said it," Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) writes in the present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel. Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel's upstanding reputation in the community, the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys-especially the black boys-suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner's struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood's adult life, showing how the physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead's brilliant examination of America's history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

There were rumors about Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school, but survivors kept their traumas to themselves until a university archaeology student discovered the secret graveyard. Whitehead follows his dynamic, highly awarded, best-selling Civil War saga, The Underground Railroad (2016), with a tautly focused and gripping portrait of two African American teens during the last vicious years of Jim Crow. There is no way Elwood Curtis would ever have become a Nickel Boy if he was white. Raised by his strict grandmother, Elwood, who cherishes his album of recorded Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, is an exemplary student who earns admission to early college classes. But trouble whips up out of thin air, and instead he is sent to Nickel, where the Black boys are barely fed, classes are a travesty, and the threat of sexual abuse and torture is endemic. As Elwood tries to emulate Dr. King's teachings of peace and forgiveness, he is befriended by the more worldly and pragmatic Turner, and together they try to expose the full extent of the brazenly racist, sadistic, sometimes fatal crimes against the Nickel Boys. Whitehead's magnetic characters exemplify stoicism and courage, and each supremely crafted scene smolders and flares with injustice and resistance, building to a staggering revelation. Inspired by an actual school, Whitehead's potently concentrated drama pinpoints the brutality and insidiousness of Jim Crow racism with compassion and protest.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: After the resounding triumph of Whitehead's previous novel, readers will avidly await this intense drama, a scorching work that will generate tremendous media coverage.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2019 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

THE NICKEL BOYS, by Colson Whitehead. (Doubleday, $24.95.) Whitehead, a Pulitzer winner for "The Underground Railroad," continues to explore America's racist legacy in this powerful novel about a serious student who dreams that college might lead him out of the Jim Crow South. Instead, he's wrongly arrested and sent to a brutal reform school modeled on a real institution. MY PARENTS: An Introduction/THIS DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU, by Aleksandar Hemon. (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) In a two-part memoir, Hemon shows how Bosnia and its wartime strife have shaped a life of exile for his family in Canada. APPEASEMENT: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, by Tim Bouverie. (Tim Duggan, $30.) This book about Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy in the 1930s is most valuable as an examination of the often catastrophic consequences of failing to stand up to threats to freedom, whether at home or abroad. THE CROWDED HOUR: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century, by Clay Risen. (Scribner, $30.) This fast-paced narrative traces the rise of Roosevelt into a national figure and something of a legend against the backdrop of the emergence of the United States as a world power. THE ICE AT THE END OF THE WORLD: An Epic Journey Into Greenland's Buried Past and Our Perilous Future, by Jon Gertner. (Random House, $28.) Gertner approaches Greenland via the explorers and scientists obsessed with it, then uses the country to illuminate the evidence for climate change. GRACE WILL LEAD US HOME: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness, by Jennifer Berry Hawes. (St. Martin's, $28.99.) This magisterial account of the 2015 hate crime and its aftermath, by a Pulitzer-winning local reporter, delivers a heart-rending portrait of life for the survivors and a powerful meditation on the meaning of mercy. MOSTLY DEAD THINGS, by Kristen Arnett. (Tin House, $25.) The "red mess" that Arnett's narrator finds in the family's taxidermy workshop early in this debut novel is not the inside of a deer - it's her dad, who has committed suicide. The book balances grief with humor and lush, visceral details. LANNY, by Max Porter. (Graywolf, $24.) In this rich, cacophonous novel of English village life - equal parts fairy tale, domestic drama and fable - a mischievous boy goes missing. NOUNS & VERBS: New and Selected Poems, by Campbell McGrath. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $24.99.) McGrath, who has spent decades exploring America and its appetites, is an especially exuberant poet; his work celebrates chain restaurants, rock music and the joyful raucous stupidity of pop culture. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books


Kirkus Review

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It's the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he'd almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school's two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment ("I am stuck here, but I'll make the best of itand I'll make it brief"). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: "The key to in here is the same as surviving out thereyou got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course." And if you defy them, Turner warns, you'll get taken "out back" and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood's idealism and Turner's cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic actionand a shared destiny. Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school's long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead's novel displays its author's facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious, if disquieting whole.There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Excerpts

Excerpts

            Elwood received the best gift of his life on Christmas Day 1962, even if the ideas it put it in his head were his undoing. Martin Luther King At Zion Hill was the only album he owned and it never left the turntable. His grandmother Hattie had a few gospel records, which she only played when the world discovered a new mean way to work on her, and Elwood wasn't allowed to listen to the Motown groups or popular songs like that on account of their licentious nature. The rest of his presents that year were clothes - a new red sweater, socks - and he certainly wore those out, but nothing endured such good and constant use as the record. Every scratch and pop it gathered over the months was a mark of his enlightenment, tracking each time he entered into a new understanding of the Reverend's words. The crackle of truth.             They didn't have a TV set but Dr. King's speeches were such a vivid chronicle -- containing all that the Negro had been and all that he would be -- that the record was almost as good as television. Maybe even better, grander, like the towering screen at the Davis Drive-In, which he'd been to twice. Elwood saw it all: Africans persecuted by the white sin of slavery, Negroes humiliated and kept low by segregation, and that luminous image to come, when all those places closed to his race were opened. The speeches had been recorded all over, Detroit and Charlotte and Montgomery, connecting Elwood to the rights struggle across the country. One speech even made him feel like a member of the King family. Every kid had heard of Fun Town, been there or envied someone who had. In the third cut on Side A, Dr. King spoke of how his daughter longed to visit the amusement park on Stewart Ave in Atlanta. Yolanda begged her parents whenever she spotted the big sign from the expressway or the commercials came on TV. Dr. King had to tell her in his low, sad rumble about the segregation system that kept colored boys and girls on the other side of the fence. Explain the misguided thinking of some whites -- not all whites, but enough whites - that gave it force and meaning. He counseled his daughter to resist the lure of hatred and bitterness and assured her that "Even though you can't go to Fun Town, you are as good as anyone who gets to go to Fun Town." That was Elwood -- good as anyone. A hundred miles south of Atlanta, in Tallahassee. Sometimes he saw a Fun Town commercial while visiting his cousins in Georgia. Lurching rides and happy music, chipper white kids lining up for the Wild Mouse Roller Coaster, Dick's Mini Golf. Strap into the Atomic Rocket for a Trip to the Moon. A perfect report card guaranteed free admission, the commercials said, if your teacher stamped a red mark on it. Elwood got all A's and kept his stack of evidence for the day they opened Fun Town to all God's children, as Dr. King promised. "I'll get in free every day for a month, easy," he told his grandmother, lying on the front room rug and tracing a threadbare patch with his thumb. His grandmother Hattie had rescued the rug from the alley behind the Richmond Hotel after the last renovation. The bureau in her room, the tiny table next to Elwood's bed, and three lamps were also Richmond castoffs. Hattie had worked at the hotel since she was fourteen, when she joined her mother on the cleaning staff. Once Elwood entered high school, the hotel manager Mr. Parker made it clear he'd hire him as a porter whenever he wanted, smart kid like him, and the white man was disappointed when the boy began working at Marconi's Tobacco & Cigars. Mr. Parker was always kind to the family, even after he had to fire Elwood's mother for stealing. Elwood liked the Richmond and he liked Mr. Parker, but adding a fourth generation to the hotel's accounts made him uneasy in a way he found difficult to describe. Even before the encyclopedias. When he was younger, he sat on a crate in the hotel kitchen after school, reading comic books and Hardy Boys while his grandmother straightened and scrubbed upstairs. With both his parents gone, she preferred to have her nine-year-old grandson nearby instead of alone in the house. Seeing Elwood with the kitchen men made her think those afternoons were a kind of school in their own right, that it was good for him to be around men. The cooks and waiters took the boy for a mascot, playing hide and seek with him and peddling creaky wisdom on various topics: the white man's ways, how to treat a good-time gal, strategies for hiding money around the house. Elwood didn't understand what the older men talked about most of the time, but he nodded gamely before returning to his adventure stories. After rushes, Elwood sometimes challenged the dishwashers to plate-drying races and they made a good-natured show of being disappointed by his superior skills. They liked seeing his smile and his odd delight at each win. Then the staff turned over. The new downtown hotels poached personnel, cooks came and went, a few of the waiters didn't return after the kitchen reopened from the flood damage. With the change in staff, Elwood's races changed from endearing novelty to mean-spirited hustle; the latest dishwashers were tipped off that the grandson of one the cleaning girls did your work for you if told him it was a game, keep on the lookout. Who was this serious boy who loitered around while the rest of them busted their asses, getting little pats on the head from Mr. Parker like he was a damn puppy, nose in a comic book like he hadn't a care? The new men in the kitchen had different kinds of lessons to impart to a young mind. Stuff they'd learned about the world. Elwood remained unaware that the premise of the competition had changed. When he issued a challenge, everybody in the kitchen tried not to smirk. Elwood was twelve when the encyclopedias appeared. One of the busboys dragged a stack of boxes into the kitchen and called for a powwow. Elwood squeezed in - it was a set of encyclopedias that a traveling salesman had left behind in one of the rooms upstairs. There were legends about the valuables that rich white people left in their rooms, but it was rare that this kind of plunder made it down to their domain. Barney the cook opened the top box and held up the leather-bound volume of Fisher's Universal Encyclopedia, Aa-Be. He handed it to Elwood, who was surprised at how heavy it was, a brick with pages edged in red. The boy flipped through, squinting at the tiny words - Aegean, Argonaut, Archimedes - and had a picture of himself on the front room couch copying words he liked. Words that looked interesting on the page or that sounded interesting in his imagined pronunciations. Cory the busboy offered up his find - he didn't know how to read and had no immediate plans to learn. Elwood made his bid. Given the personality of kitchen, it was hard to think of anyone else who'd want the encyclopedias. Then Pete, one of the new dishwashers, said he'd race him for it. Pete was a gawky Texan who'd started working two months prior. He was hired to bus tables, but after a few incidents they moved him to the kitchen. He looked over his shoulder when he worked, as if worried about being watched, and didn't talk much, although his gravelly laughter made the other men in kitchen direct their jokes toward him over time. Pete wiped his hands on his pants and said, "We got time before the dinner service, if you're up for it." The kitchen made a proper contest of it. The biggest yet. A stopwatch was produced and handed to Len, the gray-haired waiter who'd worked at the Hotel for over twenty years. He was meticulous about his black serving uniform, and maintained that he was always the best-dressed man in the dining room, putting the white patrons to shame. With his attention to detail, he'd make a dedicated referee. Two fifty-plate stacks were arranged, after a proper soaking supervised by Elwood and Pete. The two busboys acted as seconds for this duel, ready to hand over dry replacement rags when requested. A lookout stood at the kitchen door in case a manager happened by. While not prone to bravado, Elwood had never lost a dish-drying contest in four years, and wore his confidence on his face. Pete had a concentrated air. Elwood didn't perceive the Texan as a threat, having out-dried the man in prior competitions. Pete was, in general, a good loser. Len counted down from ten, and they began. Elwood stuck to the method he'd perfected over the years, mechanistic and gentle. He'd never let a wet plate slip or chipped one by setting it on the counter too quickly. As the kitchen men cheered them on, Pete's mounting stack of dried plates unnerved Elwood. The Texan had an edge on him, displaying new reserves. The on-lookers made astonished noises. Elwood hurried, chasing after the image of the encyclopedias in their front room. Len said, "Stop!" Elwood won by one plate. The men hollered and laughed and traded glances whose meaning Elwood would interpret later. Harold, one of the busboys, slapped Elwood on the back. "You were made to wash dishes, slick." The kitchen laughed. Elwood returned volume Aa to Be to its box. It was a fancy reward. "You earned it," Peter said. "I hope you get a lot of use out of them." Elwood asked the housekeeping manager to tell his grandmother he'd see her at home. He couldn't wait to see the look on her face when she saw the encyclopedia on their bookshelves, elegant and distinguished. He dragged the boxes to the bus stop on Tennessee, hunched. To see him from across the street - the serious young lad heaving his freight of the world's knowledge - was to witness a scene that might have been illustrated by Norman Rockwell, if Elwood had had white skin. At home, he cleared Hardy Boys and Tom Swifts from the green bookcase in the front room and unpacked the boxes. He paused with Ga , curious to see how the smart men at the Fisher company handled galaxy . The pages were blank - all of them. Every volume in the first box was blank except for the one he'd seen in the kitchen. He opened the other two boxes, his face getting hot. All the books were empty. When his grandmother came home, she shook her head and told him maybe they were defective, or dummy copies the salesman showed to customers as samples, so they could see how a full set would look in their homes. That night in bed his thoughts ticked and hummed like a contraption. It occurred to him that the busboy, that all the men in the kitchen, had known the books were empty. That they had put on a show. He kept the encyclopedias in the bookcase anyway. They looked impressive, even when the humidity peeled back the covers. The leather was fake, too. The next afternoon in the kitchen was his last. Everyone paid too much attention to his face. Cory tested him with "How'd you like those books?" and waited for a reaction. Over by the sink Peter had a smile that looked as if it had been hacked into his jaw with a knife. They knew. His grandmother agreed that he was old enough to stay in the house by himself. Through high school, he went back and forth over the matter of whether the dishwashers had let him win all along. He'd been so proud of his ability, dumb and simple as it was. He never settled on one conclusion until he got to Nickel, which made the truth of the contests unavoidable.   Excerpted from The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.