Colson Whitehead follows his Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad with The Nickel Boys (Doubleday, $24.95), which tells the story of the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform facility that operated during the last, violent gasps of the Jim Crow South. Based on actual, recent archaeological findings of remains of African American students at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead’s story shines a light on yet another institutional mechanism of racism and oppression. In a departure from his previous magical realism, here Whitehead is completely realistic as he follows Elwood Curtis, an idealistic, even naïve, young man on his way to college, as he gets in the wrong car at the wrong time and lands in the hell of the Nickel Academy, where segregated facilities ensure secret, brutal repercussions for the Black students. Along with his friend, Turner, Elwood investigates the school’s position within the larger community, discovering a history of bribery and corruption that has kept the place functioning.
The Nickel Boys