The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Elwood recieved the best gift of his life on Christmas Day 1962, even if the ideas it put in his head were his undoing. Martin Luther King at Zion Hill was the only album he owned and it never left the turntable.

In the immediate aftermath of Brown vs. the Board of Education, Elwood believes. He believes in a brighter future, and he sees it as his duty to be a part of the movement, telling his friends off for stealing when he knows he will get beat up; listening to Martin Luther King every night; working hard in school.

He hitches a ride with his mate to get to his first classes at a college where he is offered to take courses in english literature. Almost there, they get pulled up by a cop, and apparently the car is stolen.

The college is replaced by Nickel — a educationary facility for young criminals. It does not take long until he gets his first beating from one of the guards, and Elwood quickly understands that this ‘school’ has more cells than it has classrooms.

Consisting of one black ‘campus’ and one white, Nickel serves as an exemplary setting for this book to deal with issues of racism, such as the yearly boxing match between the blacks and the whites (a not-entirely-fair ordeal).

His time at Nickel is brutal, yet he remembers what he heard every day on his turntable before he got there:

Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. – Martin Luther King

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was one of my better reads of 2021, and his previous novel The Nickel Boys might be even better. Right up my alley as a modern historical fiction (with good company such as Deacon King Kong by James McBride), this book describes an entire American era effortlessly. The story gets going quickly, and it has just enough suspense — I never tired of it, yet I did not get a frantically high pulse either. In other words, a perfect bedtime book, and I look forward even more to Whitehead’s latest Harlem Shuffle.

Avid reader, philosophy student, and friend of nature.