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Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This was one of those hidden gems that’s recently exploded on social media and I thought I just must add it to my TBR. I finally got round to reading it earlier in the month. A few of my thoughts below.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction

BUG Rating: 2/5

Overall: I wanted to love this book with all my heart, but the Nickel Boys fell short for me. The book is based around such an important premise and I was expecting a lot of emotional turmoil, super rich characters, but unfortunately it felt quite flat. It was a very short book, and could have definitely benefited from added character development, I wanted to get to know Elwood. I hope others have more luck with the writing style.

We must believe in our souls that we are somebody, that we are significant, that we are worthful, and we must walk the streets of life every day with this sense of dignity and this sense of somebody-ness.


Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict and clearsighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, and so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honorable and honest men’.

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials and tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, and where any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back’. Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion, ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.’ But Elwood’s fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood is naive and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.

The tension between Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision which will have decades-long repercussions.

Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative by a great American novelist whose work is essential to understanding the current reality of the United States.


+ Promising book plot  covering important topic


– Lack of character development

– Flat

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