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The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead book review

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead



The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead book review 


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead So I read the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead like two years ago when it originally came out and really loved that book. 

And so I had pretty, not high expectations, but I had a feeling that the nickel boys would be a book that I would enjoy. And I did really enjoy it but I have like sort of complicated or mixed feeling sort of about this book as well. 

So quick synopsis. This is a historical fiction book. It is set in the 1960s. And you are following this boy named Elwood. You find out that like his parents left him behind with his grandmother and he's basically been raised by his grandmother.

And his grandmother raised him to be like a good kid. He does pretty well in school. He, for the most part, stays out of trouble. 

He has a job at a I think it's a convenience store or a gas station, something along those lines. He's always kind of kept to himself. He doesn't have a whole lot of friends. 

And he's always just kind of walked the straight and narrow for the most part. At the beginning of the book you find out that he has started getting really interested in Martin Luther King Jr. 

He got a record from his grandmother that had one of Dr. King's speeches on it and was really inspired by that. 

And so he starts to become really interested in the civil rights movement and like nonviolent resistance and all of those ideas that Dr. King is bringing up.

 And so he has all those sorts of ideas in his head. And one day one of his teachers tells him about this opportunity to basically take like college classes or college prep classes and sets him up with the opportunity to be able to do that.

And so while he's on his way to go to those classes, he hitches a ride to the school and the person that he hitches a ride from gets pulled over by the police while Elwood is in the car. And they get arrested for basically stealing the car.

Whether or not this person was actually behind all that is basically written as being irrelevant but Elwood gets convicted and sent to a juvenile facility. 

So this entire story is taking place in Florida and this juvenile facility is called Nickel Academy and it's a pretty terrible place. 

And so you follow Elwood as he's like going through this facility. And one of the people that he meets there is named Turner who's another black boy in the facility and things like that. 

Yeah, it's kind of the story of what happens to them. It's really hard to give a synopsis of this book because my inclination is either to tell very, very little of what happens in this book or to basically talk about the entirety of the plot. 

And obviously I'm not gonna do the latter because I know there are gonna people-- be people who are watching this who haven't read this book yet. 

So yeah overall I gave this book a 4 out of 5 stars. So let me just say off the bat that this is a book that I enjoyed overall but there are like certain things about this book that didn't really work as well for me. 

One of them I think it solely has to do with the fact that this is a very short book. Like this is less than 300 pages. 

And so I feel like this story wasn't developed enough. I feel like there's a lot of time spent with Elwood prior to him getting to Nickel Academy and there isn't as much time spent during his year at Nickel Academy. 

And I think that's sort of a missed opportunity because a lot of this book just feels like setup. And by the time it feels like you're in the middle of the real interesting part of the story, there isn't as much time spent there. 

And I'm not really sure like why Colson Whitehead chose to do it that way. It feels to me like the scenes that were set at Nickel Academy were the most compelling parts of the story. It's also the most brutal parts of the story and the most difficult to read parts of the story. 

But I think that those are the parts of the story that you want to know more about, or at least I wanted to know more about. 

If you aren't aware, like this whole book and this whole story is based on a real place that existed in Florida, like this real juvenile detention center sort of place that was like billed as being kind of a reform school sort of thing but was really more like jail. 

And there were like actual stories of like kids dying in these facilities and the way that they died being covered up and their families never being told the truth.

There's a whole storyline in here that like takes place in kind of like more present-day of the history behind Nickel Academy being sort of brought to light because they were like doing some work on the land that used to be Nickel Academy and they found a bunch of like corpses buried in the yard. And there isn't an account for like why those corpses were there. 

And so people who used to attend Nickel Academy started to talk about these things online. And there's like a website that's referred to in the book that actually exists for the real facility that like existed in Florida. 

Where like someone created basically a website for alumni, so to speak, to be able to reach out to each other and to be able to talk about their experiences there and talk about the horrific things that they had to deal with and stuff like that. 

And so like sort of having that background and knowing all that, all of the stuff about Nickel Academy in my opinion is like what I wanted to learn more about, and learn about the difficult things and the horrific things that these had kids had to go through. 

And one of the things that's talked about in like the blurb of this book and stuff like that is the fact that Elwood is someone who brought up, who was brought up having all of these ideals about like nonviolent resistance and all this stuff. 

And then he comes across this other kid at the academy named Turner who, Turner thinks that Elwood is like this super naive idealist and thinks that his ideals around like nonviolent resistance is like really dumb basically because like that's not how the world works. 

And I think that sort of tension is brought up every now and then but not explored quite as fully. 

I think it would have been more interesting to really just flesh out that conflict of what do you do when you have these sort of lofty ideals of the way you're supposed to live your life but you're put in these really terrible circumstances where it is nearly impossible to love your enemy and stuff like that because your enemy is trying to kill you. Like how do you reconcile that. 

But those are things that it feels like they just gloss upon those thoughts and ideas and it is doesn't dive quite as deeply as I wanted it to. That being said, I still obviously gave it a four out of five stars because I think that Colson Whitehead is great at like placing you in these circumstances that the vast majority of us probably will never experience or never live through. 

But you feel the intensity and the brutality and the difficulties that these characters and like real people have had to deal with for the majority of their lives. There is like a lot more with this book that, again, I can't talk about without getting into spoiler territory. But if you've read this book, I'm someone who kind of saw the ending coming. 

I really honestly don't know how or why I thought this. But like the way things wrapped up I was like, yeah, I, I kind of thought that where was gonna go because the way they were painting all of the different characters — I'm being vague on purpose but I'm assuming that if you've read the book you know what I mean. 

The way that they painted the different main characters I kind of saw this coming. So I wasn't quite as surprised by the ending than I think other people were. But that being said, I still, again, just overall really enjoyed this book. 

So to me the Underground Railroad is a stronger book and I think that this would have been a stronger book if it was like another hundred or so pages. 

It's possible that writing about Nickel Academy would have been too difficult because it is so dark and so maybe that would have weighed down the book too much. It's hard to say. 

But I just kind of wish this was a longer book that was fleshed out more because I found it to be really compelling but just not deep enough in my opinion. So those are my quick thoughts on Nickel Academy by Colson Whitehead.


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