The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
English | 2019 | General Fiction | ePUB | 1.1 Mb

The Nickel Boys : 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 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, Florida, 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 American South in 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.”

“Mmm,” Mrs. Thomas said. Her tone was suspect. Frenchtown ladies remembered the tobacco store from its disreputable days and considered the Italian an accomplice to domestic miseries. “You keep doing what you’re supposed to, El.” She took her change and Elwood watched her leave. His mother had left both of them; it was possible she sent her friend postcards from this or that place, even if she forgot to write him. One day Mrs. Thomas might share some news.

“Mr. Marconi carried Jet, of course, and Ebony. Elwood got him to pick up The Crisis and The Chicago Defender, and other black newspapers. His grandmother and her friends subscribed, and he thought it strange that the store didn’t sell them.

“You’re right,” Mr. Marconi said. He pinched his lip. “I think we used to carry it. I don’t know what happened.”

“Great,” Elwood said.

Long after Mr. Marconi had stopped minding his regulars’ buying habits, Elwood remembered what brought each person into the store. His predecessor, Vincent, had occasionally livened up the place with a dirty joke, but it couldn’t be said that he had initiative. Elwood possessed it in spades, reminding Mr. Marconi which tobacco vendor had shorted them on the last delivery and which candy to quit restocking. Mr. Marconi struggled to tell the colored ladies of Frenchtown apart—all of them wore a scowl when they saw him—and Elwood made a competent ambassador. He’d stare at the boy when he was lost in his magazines and try to figure what made him tick.

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 on to 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 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 true 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. “

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