Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys evokes race in America not as a concept but as a condition of being. In this modern historical novel, Whitehead exposes the Nickel Academy and the fate of its boys. With profound compassion and the elegance of a skilled craftsman, he reveals the tragedy of our not-too-distant past, which is also the tragedy of our present. Like all classics, the book works on many different levels: a significant social drama, it is direct, accessible and unrelenting both as allegory and as cautionary tale. This is our history. It is our story. – Kirkus Reviews.
The Nickel Boys is a powerful and well-written novel, all the more chilling for those of us who grew up in the Florida Panhandle and heard horror stories about the Dozier School on which this story was based. (You can learn more about the Dozier School’s survivors on the White House Boys website.)
When I reviewed the book, I gave it three stars because I thought Whitehead used a point of view trick to make for a more powerful ending. I thought the trick could have been easily avoided by a simple edit without detracting from the ending of the novel. Since nobody else has mentioned this trick, it’s possible that I misread the section, though I looked at it several times and still thought I was seeing a flaw.
Florida failed its population as well as those sentenced to the Dozier School, some for very minor “infractions.” There were rumors about the school for years, covered over by a code of silence by those involved and others who knew the truth.
This novel helps call attention to the kinds of abuses that were born during the Jim Crow era–I suspect we haven’t found them all.