the nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys, Novel Review

Author Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel inspired by horrifying true events. The bulk of the book takes place at a reform school for boys in Florida. The reform school is based on a true location where many murders, abuses, and other unspeakable tragedies really did take place.

I immediately recognized the story having been familiar with the story of such a school from hearing about it on a true crime podcast. Lucky for most readers this novel doesn’t go into great detail about the immensity of the abuse at this school. A few incidents are described but anything along the sexual abuse line is left to the imagination.

The Nickel Boys follows fictional character Elwood. He’s a responisble black teenager around the time of de-segregation. He gets good grades, has a part time job, and has just been accepted to go to college early. His life is really heading down the right path.

Until he gets arrested for being a passenger in a stolen car. The police refuse to listen to reason or consider circumstance. Elwood is black and adjacent to a crime, he is sentenced to attend this reform school so he can learn to be a proper member of society.

Elwood’s story is a tragic one. Everything should have gone right for him but doing the right things always just seems to land him in trouble. The whole book you’ll be rooting for him to somehow make it out and back onto his path. You’ll want so badly for him to succeed in spite of it all. He’s just that kind of protagonist.

Not to spoil the ending but I will say that there is a bit of a surprise toward the end. I quite liked the direction the book went, probably even more because it was unpredictable.

However, the bulk of the book is lacking something. This is one of those books that I have a hard time articulating why it isn’t a 5/5 review. When a book is 5 stars you can feel it, it has that extra something that makes it great instead of just good. I just never had that feeling with The Nickel Boys.

It’s a linear and straight forward story. The characters are simple and all fall into their roles. It’s well written with technically sound prose. It just seems to be missing that spark. It’s a good book, it’s a powerful story, and it’s a story that needs to be told. It just didn’t grab me in the way I was hoping.

That’s all a very lame way for me to say, good but I won’t be rereading it. I still recommend it, it’s still an important book. But I can’t say I loved it.

4/5 white houses 🏠🏠🏠🏠

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Buy it here: The Nickel Boys: A Novel

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2 thoughts on “The Nickel Boys, Novel Review

  1. Great review! I had the same experience with the book though. I kept waiting for that illuminating spark that would make me appreciate it more. As you’ve mentioned, it is a story that needs to be told but it didn’t move me the way I wanted to be moved.

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