The Nickel Boys (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

The Nickel Boys (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

by Colson Whitehead

Hardcover(Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

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This Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition includes a letter to readers from Colson Whitehead, as well as a discussion guide.

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.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385545358
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/16/2019
Edition description: Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,783
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Colson Whitehead is the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, he lives in New York City.


Brooklyn, NY

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1969

Place of Birth:

New York, NY


Harvard College, BA in English & American Literature

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The Nickel Boys: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
This story make my heart hurt. Even though it is a work of fiction, research tells us that much of it probably really happened. Colton Whitehead is an incredible writer!
Samantha Downes 7 months ago
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was a fan of Colson Whitehead's last book The Underground Railroad. It was a very difficult read but a very good story. This book echoes that sentiment. It wasn't an easy read due to the subject matter but it was a very good story. Whitehead does an amazing job of developing the main character, Elwood Curtis. For some, they could probably remember the events that took place during the time frame of the book. Elwood's story begins in 1962 and he obsessively listens to a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. record over and over. He admires the civil rights movement leaders and mentions several key events in history. Whitehead does a great job of introducing Jim Crow era experiences to those like myself who could never imagine experiences as such. In my opinion, the best historical fiction is drawn from true stories and this was no exception. In Whitehead's previous novel, he introduces the story of a slave in the south and in this novel, he introduces a segregated reform school and the horrors that ensued within. I would recommend this book to those who were drawn to the writing of Whitehead either in "Underground Railroad" or prior. Fans of historical fiction should definitely read this and honestly, I think most Americans should read this because it is a story that isn't told often at all. Powerful and sticks with you long after finishing this short novel.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Picked this up as a quick summer read and was nearly unable to put it down. I finished this book in 3 days. It is a phenomenal read for fans of social justice, historical fiction, and historical nonfiction alike. Whitehead continues to be a literary force.
Anonymous 4 months ago
This book is is so well written.
MichelleKenneth 7 days ago
This is straight up 5/5 because it just seems wrong to give it anything less. Ethically, I couldn't do it. This book broke my heart over and over again. This is not a happy tale and the first 8 pages warns you of this. If you continue on, you will learn that for some Americans, freedom does not mean freedom for all. You will learn of the atrocities that happened to the Nickel Boys. You will begin to understand what it feels like to be a young black man in the 1960s. I'm telling ya, I knew about it, but this is the first time I actually felt what it felt like. It really broke my heart. The two instances where it really hit home was when he told the story of Dr. King's daughter seeing Fun Town, an amusement park, and wanting to go there. Her father responded that she would only be able to see the amusement park from outside the fence, because she wasn't the right color. The other instance was when the narrator said that you could go see Marlon Brando in the latest movie for 75 cents, if you were white. That part really hit hard for me, because I love the movies. To know that someone could not go because of the color of their skin? That part probably broke my heart the most...that exclusion that says you are not allowed to be happy or do fun things because you are not white. He uses Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches throughout this book. I highlighted every speech. Even though King was talking about the struggles of African Americans, I couldn't help but feel that those words are for anyone and everyone who is struggling with something going on in their life. His words rang true in my own heart and soul. This is what I mean when I say Dr. King's words are for anyone who is struggling. His words help you find peace. To me? That is just proof that Dr. King was doing God's work. His words still help you find peace no matter what your struggles are. The ending was an entire surprise. It was unexpected, but I felt like it was the perfect ending of honor. This book is historical fiction and I hope it did the Nickel Boys some justice. I can't stress enough that everyone needs to read this story. [Disclosure: I received an ARC from the publisher.]
Anonymous 24 days ago
If I had known there was dialog to speak of, I wouldn't have wasted my time or money. The book was boring, hard to follow because it kept digressing to other people's lives and incidents. I understand the basis for the story, but this book was nothing like the Orphan Train, which is what I expected. I won't recommend it, for sure.
Anonymous 3 months ago
This book is an essential must read.
Sandy5 3 months ago
I listened to this novel as I painted our fence in the backyard. This small, section of fence should have taken just a few hours but when I finally made my way back inside, I realized that my morning was gone and I was working into the afternoon. I know for a fact that I’d stopped a few times while painting, as I realized that I had become so involved in the story, that I couldn’t paint and listen at the same time. I guess I had done more reading than painting today but at least the fence was done. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was a true story. These individuals were young teens, young men being treated brutally, while everyone turned their backs on them. As these individuals told their stories, I kept reminding myself that this story had really occurred. This was supposed to be a reform school, a place where change occurs for the better. The boys were at Nickel Academy either because they were orphans or because of their behavior. They didn’t expect to be someone’s target, they didn’t deserve the harsh punishment and the brutality that they received. They most certainly didn’t deserve death. As I listened, I wondered how much longer the people in charge could continue this practice and get-away with it? Wasn’t there any checks and balances along the way? I cringed to think that these individuals would take their authority further and push the envelope. It angered and frustrated me that some individuals feel they have the right to behave this way to anyone or anything. I feel that it’s a powerful book, a book that allows their story to be told but now, I have more questions after reading this book, than I did when I first started. 4.5 stars
Anonymous 3 months ago
Thank you Mr. Whitehead for writing this important story and giving all of these tortured souls a voice. The writing in this book is lyrical and tells you more in the words it doesn't say than another book would tell you in ten pages. Mr. Whitehead's writing is beautiful and spares you the worst of the worst and forces the reader to use their mind to fill in the blanks. I found the words to be so much more powerful for what they didn't say. I can't recommend this book enough. It's a difficult subject but written so perfectly that you finish the book with a sense of hope instead of despair.
Anonymous 4 months ago
This books is haunting from the beginning. Knowing the terrible that must ooze from that place, knowing it will seep out of the upcoming pages. Coming from a place of privilege, I will never understand what this world can do to someone of color. My only hope is that I can be an advocate to learn from the past, stand up with people in the present to try and create a better future for all. This is not an easy beach read, but you should read it.
Anonymous 4 months ago
A great but poignant read. It s difficult to read childhood abuse regardless of race. Well written
Anonymous 5 months ago
A tragic and innocent mistake sends Elwood Curtis to a corrupt juvenile reformatory and deprives him of an upcoming college education. It's hard to believe that Jim Crow laws existed right up to the 1960s. Based on fact, bones were found in an "unofficial" cemetery after blacks were savagely beaten to death. I finished this in two days. Very well-written.
Anonymous 5 months ago
TalNole 6 months ago
What a fabulous must read! While it is a work of fiction, it is based on tragic events in America’s history. Read this book in a couple of days because I just couldn’t stop. My first book by Colson Whitehead, but definitely not my last.
TakingTime 6 months ago
3.75 stars - Thanks to Doubleday books for a chance to read and review this ARC. Published Jul 16, 2019. Another winner by Whitehead. Having read Underground Railroad I was excited to see this book. Although feeling that this book was somewhat milder than Underground Railroad, I did enjoy the twists and turns that this book provided. Whitehead based this fictional book on the true to life experiences of boys incarcerated at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna Florida. In his acknowledgements he gives a number of other books and articles he used as reference for this book. In the early 60's as Martin Luther King started to become a household name, a young black boy hitched a ride and found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, all the while just trying to get to college. Having done nothing wrong, and just for the fact that he was black, Elwood was arrested and ended up being sent to the juvenile reformatory Nickel Academy. Nickel Academy, where young boys were sent, and some never returned. With the White House and Black Beauty hanging over them, they became slaves to "The Man', whether they were Caucasian or Negro. There were only 5 ways out - age out, have the court intervene, have family remove you, accumulate the needed amount of merits, or disappear. Often boys disappeared at the hands of the Academy - Elwood chose to run. There were some twists in this story that surprised me. Although a fictional story I believe for the most part Whitehead tried to tell the story of the Dozier School for Boys, then as is so like him, he added his own touch in the way of these twists and turns. Proving that is one of the reasons that Whitehead books are so worth the read.
Anonymous 6 months ago
FrancescaFB 6 months ago
smg5775 6 months ago
This is one time I cannot give a short synopsis of the book because I would give the story away. I didn't know what to expect as I opened the book but I read the majority of it in one afternoon. The Nickel Boys is well written. I knew it would be a difficult book to read especially since I have been reading a lot of non-fiction lately about the prison system and the Jim Crow laws. I expected it to be more graphic than it was. It is different from Mr. Whitehead's The Underground Railroad--no magical realism in sight. I am still absorbing so much of it as I write this. It is a powerful piece of writing and should be on everyone's list to read sooner rather than later.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Brings to life the history of the South in the mid-20th century, and the life of African Americans living there.
miareese 7 months ago
Upsetting. Powerful. Another deeper dive into the United State's exploitative history from Colson Whitehead. Obviously, I knew going into this that the subject was going to be a heavy-hitter, but I think I was still -somehow- caught off-guard by how devastating it was. The contrast between our main character, Elwood's, hope for the future -not just his future, but the future of African-Americans in general- and The Nickel Academy's disgusting brutality and bigotry was so upsetting. I went back and forth rooting for Elwood, being excited for all he could accomplish, and despairing over his circumstances, feeling sick to my stomach. Knowing that this book is fictionalized, but that this actually was a reality only 50 years ago is revolting. I hope everyone reads this, and I hope it angers them too.
Mizula 8 months ago
Heartbreaking. Certain to be a bookclub favorite and required reading for schools. The writing is clear, honest and bold. Pure bad luck lands a boy in a reform school that is not what it appears to be, he must nurture the dream in his heart if he is to survive. A hymn to friendship and a tragic view into American history.