The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday, 2019, 224 pp
Another one of the best books I have read this year! Though there are many gruesome scenes, the power of this novel is astonishing.
You probably already know that it is about two boys sentenced to a vicious reform school during the Jim Crow era in Florida. I recall a character who went through something similar in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, but here it is the focus of the story.
The boys are opposites in many ways. Turner is worldly wise and Elwood is a somewhat wide-eyed innocent. But they become fast friends and have a large influence on each other.
Having read two of the three volumes of the biography of Martin Luther King by Taylor Branch, I was familiar with the many words of that man which Elwood had taken to heart. For much of The Nickel Boys, it seemed that Whitehead was refuting those words by means of his dark and disastrous story.
However, and this is a big however, in a surprising twist at the end of the book, I felt that the author was honoring the hopes MLK worked so tirelessly to instill in his people. We discussed that very thing for quite a long while in my reading group.
Now that Colson Whitehead has blown me away by his two latest books, this one and The Underground Railroad, it is time for me to go back and read his earlier work. If you have read his earlier books, which ones have you liked?