Book Review

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead

Rating: 3.5 / 5

I found THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead on a New Year’s Eve used bookstore run and was super excited since I have been wanting to read his books for a long time (UNDERGROUND RAILROAD has been on my TBR for far too long!). When I found out right after the new year that there was a buddy read scheduled that some friends were doing so it seemed like this one was meant to be!

THE NICKEL BOYS begins with a gruesome discovery of unmarked graves on the grounds of The Nickel Acadamy campus. The narrative then jumps back in time to tell the story of Elwood, a young black man in the 1960s south. He’s deeply impacted by the words of Martin Luthor King Jr. and he’s trying his best to make his way up in the world through ambition and hard work. In spite of his efforts, Elwood winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is sentenced to reform school at Nickel. Nickel is staffed by sadistic men who enjoy brutalizing their young charges and slowly the reader sees how those unmarked graves in back came to be.

This was a hard novel for me to rate and I struggled with it as I was reading. I think this novel gives a lot of eye opening imagery of the horrors experienced by young innocent men such as Elwood, but something in the way the novel was laid out made it hard for me to really connect with his story. The novel jumps around in time quite a bit from Elwood’s story at the school to the timeframe around the prologue and I think these jumps made the narrative feel a bit choppy for me.

The conclusion of this novel had some twists that partially alleviated some of my concerns about the earlier portions of the book, but it didn’t entirely win me over. Overall this is one that I’m glad I read even if it left me with some mixed feelings. I absolutely want to pick up my copy of UNDERGROUND RAILROAD soon to read more by this author.

Reading Challenges:

#nerdreading2020 – a book bought on holiday

4 thoughts on “THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead”

  1. Thanks for this review! Whitehead’s books have been on my TBR for ages and it’s been really interesting reading the different opinions over this book – people are pretty polarized it seems, so it’s nice you have a more moderate take. Looking forward to getting this from my library.

    Liked by 1 person

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