“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead

Thanks to Little Brown and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’m usually pretty chill when it comes to reading negative reviews of books I really liked, different strokes for different folks and all that, but this is one of those books that I got annoyed reading any negative reviews for. Sometimes a book comes along that is just so important and expertly written that people who didn’t like it probably need their head examined.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Colson Whitehead’s novel tells the story of The Nickel Boys, a group of boys sent to a ‘reform’ school in Florida. When I started reading this book I had a real sense of deja vu and realised it was based on the real life Dozier School for Boys which I had heard about on the Sword and Scale podcast. This book is a fictional account, but many of the incidences of abuse and brutality are based on real events.

Our story starts with Elwood, a young African American boy with a bright future. He is sent to the Nickel School through an unlucky quirk of fate. Injustice is one of the key themes running through the novel as events also coincide with the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

The descriptions of abuse and racism are unforgiving, brutal, utterly heartbreaking and frustrating. Knowing that they are based on real events makes the story so much more affecting. The narrative of this beautifully written novel flashes back and forward in time from Elwood’s childhood to his life as an adult in New York City. I liked the stories within stories throughout the novel and Elwood’s enduring hope and unwavering sense of justice despite all that happens to him.

I’m one of those annoying people who can be very smug about guessing twists in a story but the twist in this book came like a sucker punch. A novel about injustice, yet also hope, friendship and love. An absolute gem. RIP to all of the victims of the Dozier School for Boys.

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