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The Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
Cover of The Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
A Novel
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two...
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two...
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  • In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

    When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood's only salvation is his friendship with fellow "delinquent" Turner, which deepens despite Turner's conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

    Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 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 and "should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation's best" (Entertainment Weekly).
    WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
    ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
    Time, Esquire, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Vox, Variety, Christian Science Monitor, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Literary Hub, BuzzFeed, The New York Public Library
    NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
    NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST
    ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S 10 BEST FICTION BOOKS OF THE DECADE
    WINNER OF THE KIRKUS PRIZE
    LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
    LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION 2020
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book
    Elwood received the best gift of his life on Christmas Day 1962, even if the ideas it put it in his head were his undoing. Martin Luther King At Zion Hill was the only album he owned and it never left the turntable. His grandmother Hattie had a few gospel records, which she only played when the world discovered a new mean way to work on her, and Elwood wasn't allowed to listen to the Motown groups or popular songs like that on account of their licentious nature. The rest of his presents that year were clothes – a new red sweater, socks – and he certainly wore those out, but nothing endured such good and constant use as the record. Every scratch and pop it gathered over the months was a mark of his enlightenment, tracking each time he entered into a new understanding of the Reverend's words. The crackle of truth.
    They didn't have a TV set but Dr. King's speeches were such a vivid chronicle — containing all that the Negro had been and all that he would be — that the record was almost as good as television. Maybe even better, grander, like the towering screen at the Davis Drive-In, which he'd been to twice. Elwood saw it all: Africans persecuted by the white sin of slavery, Negroes humiliated and kept low by segregation, and that luminous image to come, when all those places closed to his race were opened.
    The speeches had been recorded all over, Detroit and Charlotte and Montgomery, connecting Elwood to the rights struggle across the country. One speech even made him feel like a member of the King family. Every kid had heard of Fun Town, been there or envied someone who had. In the third cut on Side A, Dr. King spoke of how his daughter longed to visit the amusement park on Stewart Ave in Atlanta. Yolanda begged her parents whenever she spotted the big sign from the expressway or the commercials came on TV. Dr. King had to tell her in his low, sad rumble about the segregation system that kept colored boys and girls on the other side of the fence. Explain the misguided thinking of some whites — not all whites, but enough whites – that gave it force and meaning. He counseled his daughter to resist the lure of hatred and bitterness and assured her that "Even though you can't go to Fun Town, you are as good as anyone who gets to go to Fun Town."
    That was Elwood — good as anyone. A hundred miles south of Atlanta, in Tallahassee. Sometimes he saw a Fun Town commercial while visiting his cousins in Georgia. Lurching rides and happy music, chipper white kids lining up for the Wild Mouse Roller Coaster, Dick's Mini Golf. Strap into the Atomic Rocket for a Trip to the Moon. A perfect report card guaranteed free admission, the commercials said, if your teacher stamped a red mark on it. Elwood got all A's and kept his stack of evidence for the day they opened Fun Town to all God's children, as Dr. King promised. "I'll get in free every day for a month, easy," he told his grandmother, lying on the front room rug and tracing a threadbare patch with his thumb.
    His grandmother Hattie had rescued the rug from the alley behind the Richmond Hotel after the last renovation. The bureau in her room, the tiny table next to Elwood's bed, and three lamps were also Richmond castoffs. Hattie had worked at the hotel since she was fourteen, when she joined her mother on the cleaning staff. Once Elwood entered high school, the hotel manager Mr. Parker made it clear he'd hire him as a porter whenever he wanted, smart kid like him, and the white man was disappointed when the boy began working at Marconi's Tobacco & Cigars. Mr. Parker was always kind to the family, even after he had to fire Elwood's mother for...

About the Author-

  • Colson Whitehead is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad, which in 2016 won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the National Book Award and was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, as well as The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York. He is also a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships. He lives in New York City.
    Colson Whitehead is available for select speakingengagements. To inquire about a possible appearance,please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureauat speakers@ penguinrandomhouse.com or visitwww.prhspeakers.com.

Reviews-

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2019

    Having claimed multiple awards (including the Pulitzer) and over a million in sales across formats for The Underground Railroad, his ripped-gut portrait of American slavery, Whitehead now assays segregation through the experiences of young Tallahassee, FL, resident Elwood Curtis. In the 1960s, Elwood is college-bound until he makes a mistake that lands him at a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose staff profess to shape inmates into upstanding young men but who routinely deliver vicious beatings and sexual abuse and make sure resisters disappear forever. The shocked Elwood takes Martin Luther Kings' pacifist approach to events, but friend Turner has other ideas. Whitehead researched the Florida Industrial School for Boys (later the Dozier Academy), where a secret mass grave was found after its 2011 closure.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2019
    The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It's the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he'd almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school's two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment ("I am stuck here, but I'll make the best of it...and I'll make it brief"). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: "The key to in here is the same as surviving out there--you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course." And if you defy them, Turner warns, you'll get taken "out back" and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood's idealism and Turner's cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action--and a shared destiny. Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school's long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead's novel displays its author's facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious, if disquieting whole.There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 11, 2019
    “As it had ever been with Nickel, no one believed them until someone else said it,” Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) writes in the present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel. Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel’s upstanding reputation in the community, the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys—especially the black boys—suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner’s struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood’s adult life, showing how the physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead’s brilliant examination of America’s history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from March 1, 2019
    There were rumors about Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school, but survivors kept their traumas to themselves until a university archaeology student discovered the secret graveyard. Whitehead follows his dynamic, highly awarded, best-selling Civil War saga, The Underground Railroad (2016), with a tautly focused and gripping portrait of two African American teens during the last vicious years of Jim Crow. There is no way Elwood Curtis would ever have become a Nickel Boy if he was white. Raised by his strict grandmother, Elwood, who cherishes his album of recorded Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, is an exemplary student who earns admission to early college classes. But trouble whips up out of thin air, and instead he is sent to Nickel, where the Black boys are barely fed, classes are a travesty, and the threat of sexual abuse and torture is endemic. As Elwood tries to emulate Dr. King's teachings of peace and forgiveness, he is befriended by the more worldly and pragmatic Turner, and together they try to expose the full extent of the brazenly racist, sadistic, sometimes fatal crimes against the Nickel Boys. Whitehead's magnetic characters exemplify stoicism and courage, and each supremely crafted scene smolders and flares with injustice and resistance, building to a staggering revelation. Inspired by an actual school, Whitehead's potently concentrated drama pinpoints the brutality and insidiousness of Jim Crow racism with compassion and protest.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: After the resounding triumph of Whitehead's previous novel, readers will avidly await this intense drama, a scorching work that will generate tremendous media coverage.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • President Barack Obama "A necessary read."
  • Toronto Star "This is a powerful book by one of America's great writers. . . . Without sentimentality, in as intense and finely crafted a book as you'll ever read, Whitehead tells a story of American history that won't allow you to see the country in the same way again."
  • The New York Times "Colson Whitehead continues to make a classic American genre his own. . . . The narration is disciplined and the sentences plain and sturdy, oars cutting into water. Every chapter hits its marks. . . . Whitehead comports himself with gravity and care, the steward of painful, suppressed histories; his choices on the page can feel as much ethical as aesthetic. The ordinary language, the clear pane of his prose, lets the stories speak for themselves. . . . Whitehead has written novels of horror and apocalypse; nothing touches the grimness of the real stories he conveys here"
  • TIME "Inspired by a real school in Florida, The Nickel Boys is a haunting narrative that reinforces Whitehead's prowess as a leading voice in American literature."

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