by Colson Whitehead
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood's only salvation is his friendship with fellow "delinquent" Turner, which deepens despite Turner's conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
"The Nickel Boys is a strictly realist work, albeit still ripe with Whitehead's signature deadpan wit... The heart of The Nickel Boys is this extended dialogue between Elwood and Turner... [and] often feels like Whitehead's conversation with both the idealistic forerunners of the civil rights generation and, by implication, the woke youth of today. Like perhaps his single greatest influence, Ralph Ellison, Whitehead negotiates a tightrope walk between the need to depict the experience of race and racism and a stubborn individualistic resistance to the claims of collective identity." -- Slate
"[Whitehead's] prose here is elegant yet straightforward... these short sentences spur the action on, creating a pace that's almost as breath-taking as the novel's depiction of cruelty... Whitehead's novel is certainly revelatory, but more for the ways in which it traces these atrocities to the past and present, weaving tragedy into multiple lifetimes. The Nickel Boys isn't just a testament to systemic racism; it's an archaeology of pain." -- A.V. Club
"[The Nickel Boys is] a marvellous play between the real situation and a novelistic artifice--one which, in the end, proves to be inherent in the human story...This is a heartbreakingly good novel. Its excellence doesn't lie in the attitude it takes to a social problem... Rather, this is a book which should last because of the elegant refinement of its treatment, and the harmonious and deeply affecting balance it strikes between real-life conditions, and the requirements of the finest and most penetrating art." -- The Spectator
"[A] remarkable novel." -- Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Bad Feminist
"A gripping and brilliant novel based on a true story about a boys' reformatory school in Florida in the 1960s. Whitehead is one of the most daring and gifted authors writing these days, and I will never miss one of his books." -- Elizabeth Gilbert, author of City of Girls
About the Author:
Colson Whitehead is the number one New York Times bestselling author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award and was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. He is also a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 2020, he won his second Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Nickel Boys. He lives in New York City.