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The Nickel Boys: 02/08/20
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is historical fiction inspired by a real institution in Florida where boys were sent after they were arrested. Recently an unmarked graveyard was found where boys who had "run away" had actually be buried when the extreme punishments went to far.
The book opens in Frenchtown, a Tallahassee neighborhood. Elwood Curtis is a good kid with a promising future. He's worked most of his childhood and saved money. He's gotten good grades. He's gotten into college. He makes the mistake of hitchhiking to college and ends up being arrested. Being a black boy he's sent to Nickel Academy.
Elwood's story is told in a detached, near monotone and there's a reason for that. While the novel was inspired by a real place, how it unfolds is structurally similar to A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959). Both novels play on the reader's expectations.
What's different here is the thematic focus. Rather than being about privileged boys experiencing bullying and tragedy while avoiding WWII, it's about imprisoned boys being abused while the adults charged with their care benefit.