The Nickel Boys
November 16, 2019 7:56 AM - by Colson Whitehead - Subscribe

In this follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

Whitehead's last book won the Pulitzer, but I think this book even better. I spent much of the book wondering how close to true this story is. Whitehead assures us in the epilogue that the story is fictional, although it was inspired by the news stories of atrocities at the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys in the Marianna FL, and Colson borrows a few details from the Dozier School for the Nickel School. Authorities eventually unearthed 81 bodies there, if you want a hint about life in reform school. Underground Railroad often blurred the line between historical fiction and fantasy, and The Nickel Boys does the same sort of thing. The book is fiction, but absolutely everything in it could of and probably did actually happen in the Jim Crow era south.
posted by COD (2 comments total)
I just finished reading it and it was very fine. The twist at the end caught me off guard; a reread would probably be profitable taking on board what you know at the end.
posted by chavenet at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought this was a great book. It took me a bit longer to go through because it was so unrelentingly crushing, but I highly recommend. The boxing match vignette was especially hard to get through because the ending seemed so inevitable, and I appreciated the building dread as you made your way through it.

I think we can do spoilers here, right? At any rate, spoilers:

The ending originally struck me wrong, as I felt like I figured it out before I was supposed to. It felt like an unnecessary twist in a book that had previously built its meaning on the horrors of inevitability. But after some reflection, it was completely necessary. And the final scene in the hotel restaurant punched harder and harder the more I thought about it.
posted by lilac girl at 1:01 PM on November 16, 2019

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