The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019)

download-2This is a horrifyingly real story of a reform school for boys where corruption and violence are the norm, especially for the Black students. While this is a work of fiction, it is based on a real reform school, The Dozier School for Boys, located in Florida, not far from the fictional Nickel Academy in Tallahassee. Students and a professor at the University of South Florida uncovered the remains of 55 boys at Dozier, all of them unmarked and covered up (with dirt and with lies). Using that news story (read more about it here) and that research as his basis, Colson created a story about Elwood and Turner, two boys who meet at Nickel and stick together.  Elwood is a high school high achiever, enough that his teacher told him to take classes at the local college. Too far away to walk, Elwood hitch hikes–and when he’s picked up by a man who stole the car, Elwood is sent to the juvenile reformatory: Nickel Academy. Such is the fate of being Black in the Jim Crow south. And though he tries to keep his head down, ultimately, he decides to speak out by writing details about the corruption, violence, rape, and death. But his words only bring him more violence, even as he tries to believe in the words and ideas of Martin Luther King. Turner, on the other hand, knows the world is set against them, and he sees no hope in hope. He’s the realist to Elwood’s optimism. Where Elwood hopes the truth will set them free, Turner knows that power is more important than truth, and truth will be buried–along with outspoken boys. This is a stomach-churning novel, but it’s too important to skip. So brace yourself for a difficult journey.


  1. Good to see your comments as this has been on my list for a long time. Maybe time to check it out from the library.


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