By Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
What’s it about?
Elwood Curtis is 17 years-old in 1962. He is living with his grandmother in Tallahassee, Florida when he hitches a ride to school in the wrong car. Charged with car theft he is sent to the Nickel Academy Reform School for Boys. Elwood trusts that doing the right thing will always prevail- but this strategy may not work in Nickel Academy.
What did it make me think about?
The words of Martin Luther King are sprinkled throughout this novel. “Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours, and drag us out onto some wayside road, and beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.” On one hand there is the senseless brutality and abuse of power in Nickel, and on the other hand are the lofty ideals of Martin Luther King who wanted to rise above it all.In many ways this book is about the capacity to suffer.The history of racism in our country is wide and deep. It is a complicated divide and stories such as these should help start much needed conversations.
Should I read it?
Nickel Academy is modeled after the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Dozier was an actual reform school in Florida. The recent discovery of dead bodies has given new weight to age old stories of abuse at Dozier. Colson Whitehead tells Elwood’s story in a quiet voice that should break your heart.
“That’s what the school did to a boy,” Whitehead writes. “It didn’t stop when you got out. Bend you all kind of ways until you were unfit for straight life, good and twisted by the time you left.”