SPL March Book: The Nickel Boys

The capacity to suffer. Elwood — and all the Nickel boys — existed in the capacity. Breathed in it, ate in it, dreamed in it. That was their lives now. Otherwise they would have perished. The beatings, the rapes, the unrelenting winnowing of themselves. They endured. But to love those who would have destroyed them? To make that leap? . . . Elwood shook his head. What a thing to ask. What an impossible thing.

Whitehead, Colson. The Nickel Boys. p 172

When I found out our book club’s March pick was The Nickel Boys, I got excited. After all, I have heard great things about The Underground Railroad. The Nickel Boys follows Elwood and the other kids admitted to Nickel, a school based on the reform school which operated for 111 years. It also paints a picture of what the school is for and how it operates.

So a few things I enjoyed / liked about this book:

  • I love how the story opens up with a group of students finding out about a graveyard and an unmarked grave site, both by the school, and what it meant in relation to the students who attended Nickel. It upset me in a way because for some reason, I knew that those bodies belonged to the students. It made me wonder just what kind of school Nickel was, and what the students endured during their time there. Yes it was a bit grim, but that was a great opening for this book.
  • I liked that it was divided into 3 different parts: pre-Nickel Elwood (although how he got admitted was just wrong); Nickel Elwood; and post-Nickel Elwood.
  • And that TWIST closer to the end!

If there was anything I wished there was more of, I would’ve loved to see more brutality. It would’ve made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I felt like it was lacking a bit in that department. We hear stories, and in some cases we’re put in the environment of the punishment but we’re not supposed to talk about it. There are times when reading this book, I tell myself, “What happened??? I want to know!”

It was also would’ve been great if we were able to follow other kids as faithfully as we did Elwood. With him, we were able to experience his beating and how that affected his attitude towards Spencer, Nickel, and the other boys. With the others, we deal with the aftermath without fully knowing how we got there in the first place.

Have you read The Nickel Boys? What are your thoughts about it?

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