“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place.”
Based on the true life atrocities of the state-run Dozier School for Boys, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys tells the harrowing tale of Elwood Curtis, a law-abiding, hardworking, studious teenager, emboldened by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, who is sentenced to the Nickel Academy in the 1960s following a tragically innocent misadventure. What he experiences there — the sadistic punishments, the abuse wreaked by the faculty upon its students — belies belief, seems inhuman. But it happened. This is fiction based on fact.
From its brutal opening, depicting a secret grave site being discovered in the present day on the grounds of the juvenile reform school, The Nickel Boys is an unsparing, necessary portrait of America’s history of racism and violence and its eternal legacy. Horrifically, the Dozier School for Boys was only closed down in 2011; so this is not a book the sins of the past, it’s about realising the violations recounted within are the sins of the present.
It’s an extraordinary book, with an ending that lands like gut punch. You simply must read it.