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 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.”
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 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.
My Mini Thoughts
My book club read and loved The Underground Railroad last year. So when I saw the same author was coming out with a new book, I suggested that we read it. I have to say that I did not love it as much as the authors previous book.
Yes, terrible things happened to these boys at The Nickel Academy. The beatings were hard to stomach. However this story moved at a snail’s pace for me. Maybe it’s that I’m over reading about this type of setting. All boys school or all girls school. There is a mention of sexual abuse in the synopsis, but they didn’t really go into any detail in that matter. There was a mention of Lovers Lane a few times in the book, so that may have been referencing the sexual abuse.
Overall this story did bring to light the injustices African Americans had to deal with back then. Elwood was sitting in a car with a white male when he was arrested. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. Elwood also wasn’t really doing anything wrong when they took him to the “White House” for a beating. The details in this beating reminded me of the movie 12 Years A Slave, which is a great movie, but the beating part of the slave was hard to watch.
My book club was divided on this one. Some loved it, others liked it. I just had high expectations after reading The Underground Railroad. I will add that I loved the ending, but that’s all I can say because it would be considered a big spoiler alert if I wrote anything more.
Book Rating 3/5
For the grand finale this would pair nicely with Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon.