True events inspire the nighmares in ‘The Nickel Boys’

“Hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy.” — Liu Xiaobo

The scars from past traumas add a haze to every aspect of life. In our latest read “The Nickel Boys” transports readers to a gruesome institution in the swampy Florida heat.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

“The Nickel Boys” is a harrowing fictional account of two boys who meet at the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform school in Florida, during the civil rights movement. Elwood is a studious and hardworking young man who wants to live his life by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, but he finds that one misstep lands him in hell. Elwood befriends Turner, a cunning liar without a family, who is skeptical about society’s potential for change.

Nickel is a gruesome nightmare of an institution that takes boys and young men and grinds them into dust through strenuous labor and vicious abuse. Whitehead’s latest novel is a gritty and harrowing tale of friendship forged between Elwood and Turner in a monsterous and corrupt institution. While the Nickel Academy is fictional, Whitehead’s novel is inspired by accounts of abuse from the very real Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which also operated out of Florida.

Whitehead writes this haunting and devastating tale centered around a stunningly resilient protagonist with an urgent grace that makes the book difficult to put down even when his descriptions of the abuse causes the reader to squirm.

From the book jacket…

“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.”

If you enjoy…

Readers who enjoyed Whitehead’s writing may also enjoy his bestseller, “The Underground Railroad,” which follows the story of an escaped slave’s flight to freedom. Bookworms might also enjoy the raw and deliberate prose in Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.”