The Nickel Boys
In “The Nickel Boys,” we must confront some of the darkest aspects of the human condition. Colson Whitehead creates characters that exhibit tremendous grace under pressure in this heart-thumping novel that explores the boundaries of the human spirit.
The novel follows two teenagers, Elwood Curtis and Jack Turner, as they navigate the dangers of the Nickel Academy: a reform school for boys in the heart of Florida. The two boys are exposed to mistreatment and cruelty as they serve out their sentences among the other downtrodden boys of Florida’s juvenile system.
Elwood Curtis is a gifted young man with a future, but he finds himself on the wrong end of a false conviction that ultimately alters the course of his life. Elwood is sent to Nickel, where he meets the cunning and resilient Jack Turner, another young man that has seen his fair share of pain and heartbreak.
In order to survive, Elwood and Jack and the rest of their Nickel schoolmates must work together. Despite their innate differences, Elwood and Jack, form a bond born out of mutual suffering that blossoms into kinship that transcends the traditional understanding of friendship. They must endure dilapidated dormitories, the threat of violence, and the ever vigilant and ruthless Superintendent Spencer.
The novel serves as a cautionary tale; one that forces us to look back at the aspects of American society that make us cringe as we watch a group of adolescent teens cling to their innocence in a world designed to strip them of it. Whitehead crafts a world filled with both great sadness and great resolve in this harrowing novel that ends with a flurry of astonishing revelations, both for the novel’s cast of misfits—and hopefully—the reader as well.