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The Nickel Boys

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

For anyone familiar with the real story, this is a book you may not really want to it anyway!



Elwood Curtis lives in a segregated Tallahassee, Florida during the midst of the Civil Right movement in the 1960’s. He’s a smart boy and takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.”

Elwood, a senior in high school, is innocently on his way to take college classes at local black college, when the unthinkable happens and his future is destroyed. He is sent to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform school that provides “physical, intellectual and moral training.”

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses students, and sells the Academy’s food and supplies to corrupt officials and locals. Boys who step out of line are likely to disappear “out back.”

Elwood is startled to find himself in such a vicious environment. His friend, Turner, thinks Elwood is naïve, instead Turner says the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. The tension between Elwoods ideals and Turners skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo for years to come.

The Nickel Boys is based on the real story of a reform school in North Florida that operated for 111 years and ruined the lives of thousands of boys.

“Over time, Elwood saw that he was always simultaneously at home in whatever scene he found himself and also seemed like he shouldn’t have been there; inside and above at the same time; a part and apart. Like a tree trunk that falls across the creek—it doesn’t belong and then it’s never not been there, generating its own ripples in the larger current.”


THE NICKEL BOYS is a fabulously written book about a difficult truth. The read is wrenching, but it’s also enlightening and moving. The writing is straight forward with thought-provoking prose.

It’s a historical fiction account of the actual treatment of boys who were sent to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida which was operated by the state from 1900 to 2011. Throughout it’s 111 year history, the school gained a reputation for abuse, rapes, torture and murder. Many boys simply “disappeared” from Dozier. Only now are researchers finding the unmarked graves.

THE NICKEL BOYS, beautifully written by COLSON WHITEHEAD should be required reading. It’s takes a horrible event in history and gives the reader a glimpse of the brutality, segregation, discrimination during the Jim Crow era through the eyes of a seventeen year old boy. The story is captivating, but the reality is simply infuriating. This is a book you may not really want to read...but read it anyway! You’ll be glad you did.

I enjoyed listening to this disquieting audiobook narrated by JD Jackson. Elwood Curtis’s spirit and his efforts to stand up to injustice will not soon be forgotten.

“You can change the law but you can’t change people and how they treat each other.”

“If it’s true for you, it is true for someone else, and you are no longer alone.”

Publisher Doubleday/Penguin RandomHouse Audio

Published July 16, 2019

Narrated JD Jackson

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