Hey y’all! It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left you, without a dope beat to step to. Step to, step to, step to. Step to, step to. *wicky-wicky-wah*
I’m back with my thoughts about The Nickel Boys!
The Nickel Boys is unlike anything I have read before. I have read books about prison, but never about a prison camp for boys, excuse me juvenile reformatory. One in which people in live in my lifetime would have gone to. The worst thing about this, is that this institution was based off a real school in Florida.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is about a good kid named Elwood who was on his way to college before a mistake Black boys don’t have the luxury of making lands him a stay at Nickel Academy. The novel flashes back and forth from a time of youth stolen at Nickel Academy to adulthood to older adulthood.
The plot twist at the end was really good! I won’t give anything away, but I was shook! While the story and writing were good, there was still something missing for me that I can’t quite put my finger on. I felt similarly with The Underground Railroad, which I ended up not finishing. These are good historical commentary, but something just didn’t stick with me.
Maybe my great love for historical fiction I had growing up is starting to dull because I have felt this way about several historical fiction books lately. I think I just need more drama and less history. History books, both fiction and nonfiction, are good ways to remind us of the past; to let us know how we have grown and what things we still need to atone for or heal collectively.
The Nickel Boys was an interesting look at how trauma (this is starting to become a theme here in this space) stays with a Black boy and becomes a Black man. I wrote a piece a while back about who is allowed to experience trauma, and this is another book that comes to mind.
This may have been one school, but it is just one example of how institutions oppress certain people. And before you say, “But there were white kids there too!”, the Black kids were incarcerated and tortured at much higher rates (hmm, similar to our prison system today).
I think it is too easy for our society to look at Black children and place undue maturity onto them. And both white and Black folks do this. Black folks do it out of an evolutionary instinct to protect their children. I’m not sure why white folks (only the explicitly racist ones, of course) do it because it seems paradoxical to treat Black children as adults to be held accountable and Black adults as children who don’t know any better.
We have to remember these were Black children in this story. Yes, the main character was like 17, but Brock Turner was 19 when he became the model swimmer to be protected because society said he still had a bright future. The boys of Nickel Academy did not have this privilege. Their youth was stolen, and their future was forever altered.
Overall, I recommend this book out of principle. It is an important story that needs to be told.