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The Nickel Boys
Colson Whitehead

Based on a true story, this novel is set in a 1960s reform school in Florida. 16-year-old Elwood Curtis has always admired Dr. Martin Luther King and plans on enrolling in a local black college. However, an accident leads to Elwood being sent to the “Nickel Academy”, where he meets his fellow inmate Turner. At the Nickel Academy, the promise of “physical and moral training” is merely a thin veil to cover the sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted on the boys. While Elwood holds on to his ideals of compassion and forgiveness; Turner decides the only way to cope with abuse is to emulate his oppressor’s behavior. The novel explores the racism and corruption that has been so prevalent in America’s history.

The novel could be combined with a lesson on racism and crime in America’s history. Excerpts of the novel could be used to give students a better understanding of reform schools and the similarities and differences to prisons.

· · 2019

Critical edition

Whitehead, Colson. The Nickel Boys. Fleet, 2019. 224 pp., ISBN 9780708899434

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In favour of this entry

  • Addresses current affairs
  • Award-winning
  • Students can identify with the text

Adapted as

  • Audiobook