Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

213 pages

ISBN: 9780385537070

Published: 7/16/19 by Doubleday Books

Genre: Historical Fiction

Amazon | B&N

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2020 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Goodreads Synopsis:

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

The book is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children.

Review:

Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours, and drag us out onto some wayside road, and beat us and leave us half-dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.

I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, but I hesitated to pick it up because I had never read anything by Whitehead. I had heard reviews about The Underground Railroad on YouTube that weren’t great. Honestly, I still don’t feel the need to pick up that specific book. This one drew me in because of the topic. I researched it before I jumped into the novel. If you don’t want to read a novel about it, please go read a few articles about the topic. This place was open for over 100 years. Think about how many kids were abused and traumatized. It’s awful, and if any of that is triggering to you, then maybe don’t pick this one up.

If you think that this is going to have a happy ending, you are wrong. It’s heartbreaking all the way through. One of the main issues I had with this book was not feeling attached to the characters. I felt bad for them, obviously, but they all fell very flat. Not sure if that’s how it was supposed to be, but I really wanted to know Elwood. I wonder what the novel would be like if it was just a bit longer.

That doesn’t mean that Whitehead isn’t a phenomenal writer. I was sucked in from the first line: “Even in death the boys were trouble.”

He also had a way of hinting to the reader that something more is going on behind the scenes. When Elwood arrives at Nickel, he mentions that it doesn’t seem too bad. As time goes on, however, he notices that boys have bruises and chunks taken out of their ears, etc. It all happens so fast, though. So don’t blink when you read this.

It wasn’t the perfect book, but it does what it’s supposed to. I find that it might be too short to convey the full story. Other than that and the flat characters, this is worth a read.


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Four (Sad) Mini Book Reviews + 1 DNF

Hello, friends! I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy. I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much on here. I haven’t been in the mood to write full-length reviews. The books I’ve been reading lately haven’t been that great. I have one on here that is a four-star rating, and the rest of them are three and under. I haven’t been finishing as many books as I would like to, but I think I’m just not reading books that excite me.


Let’s start with the DNF, and work our way up from there–end on a positive note.

Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas.

DNF

First of all, I tried my hardest with this one. I read roughly 80 pages with my own eyes, and I tried to listening to it the rest of the way, but I made to page 133 and gave up. It wasn’t keeping me interested, and I didn’t care about anything that was going on. I don’t know if it’s this book, or if I’m just not in the romance mood. I want to move on from this one and maybe give Douglas another try in the distant future. I read Birthday Girl last year, I believe, and I loved it. I’m hoping this one just wasn’t for me and that’s all. I hope you all won’t take it personally.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Oh boy. Where do I start? Do I start with the obnoxious characters or the boring storytelling? I almost put this one down as well, but I thought that the ending might have something more to offer. Nope. I don’t think this could have ended in a more anticlimactic way. Hal (Harriet) was stupid enough to go for something that she didn’t originally think was hers. There are also better jobs to work than tarot card readings. It wasn’t believable. That’s all I really have to say about this one. Moving right along. 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you to HarperCollins and NetGalley for the advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Was this a generous rating? Probably. There is so much that happens in this book, some of it being completely weird, that I almost couldn’t keep up. There were parts that kept me interested enough to give this three stars. The writing style also saved it. I understand that it’s based on Erdrich’s grandfather, and that’s not what I’m basing this review on. It seems he lived an interesting life, and that’s where I’ll stop. This was long and boring, but I could see how a lot of readers would like it. There is some wisdom thrown around in the 450 pages. Nothing that really stuck with me, though. If you want to give it a try, then I support your decision.

The Last Affair by Margot Hunt

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m not sure why I awarded this one a three-star rating. It’s probably more of a two star, but it kept me entertained… I guess. It’s very predictable, and all the characters are horrible people. The writing isn’t special, and I knew who did what as soon as the character was introduced. I think this would be perfect for someone starting out in the thriller genre. It isn’t the worst thriller out there. 

The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for the advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Listen, I’m not going to sit here and say that this isn’t a weird ass book. I also didn’t expect this to involve rats—2020 is the year of the rat—and a pandemic, but here we are. The characters are very distinguishable, but they do fall a little flat. There are not a lot of character arcs happening. I thought it was such a fun adventure that I’ve never read about. Bohjalian is out here doing some weird stuff, but I’m not here to judge. I’m just here to read the “weird stuff.” If you’re into rats and pandemics, then drag this one off of your shelves and break it open. You heard it here first, folks. 

I hope this wasn’t too sad of a post. I’ve been in a very honest mood lately. I want to be more critical of my books. I want my reviews and ratings to represent who I am as a reader. I know that some of these might your favorite books, and I’m not saying they can’t be. These didn’t really work for me, and that’s okay too. I’m planning on taking my time with my reviews from here on out. I always feel like I need to rush through them so I can get a blog post up. I want to love my content, and that’s what I’m deciding to do.


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Netgalley Book Review: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

The Invited

By: Jennifer McMahon

Publishing Date: 4/30/19 by Doubleday Books

ISBN: 9780385541381 (Hardcover)

368 pages (Kindle Edition)

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 (3.5)

Amazon | B & N | Goodreads

I was able to receive this on Netgalley for an honest review. Thank you Doubleday Books!

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Helen and Nate, totally uproot their lives, moving to forty acres of Vermont land. Helen, being the history teacher that she is, wants to build their dream home with pieces that hold a piece of the past. In doing so, she conjures up a part of the land that she never expected, three generations of Breckenridge women. 

Skip back to Hattie Breckenridge, the lady that was lynched a century before on that same piece of land. There is still something that she wants Helen to find while she’s living there.

Enter, Olive. Olive, a high school student, lives with her father, and hopes for her mother to come back. She also knows, and searches for the very thing Hattie desires. This is where all three lives collide in a chilling search for the truth. 

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That synopsis had me jumping in excitement. It’s not something I ever read about. I loved the story, and that was what kept me intrigued. The writing, however, was not my favorite. I felt that it was repetitive, and almost too simplistic at points. I was expecting more of an atmospheric read rather than the heavy focus on the characters.

Since it is more character driven, let’s talk about that. This novel is told in multiple perspectives, and that is my favorite way authors write mysteries. It helps build anticipation, and I think it helps answer more questions. You get both sides of one story. I will admit that the characters in this weren’t horrible, but I still felt like they needed more development. They were distinctive enough to understand who was who, but I did find myself getting a little mixed up at times. Nate was probably my least favorite of all the characters. He was annoying, and I honestly wanted him to die the whole time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that kind of story.

I’m interested to know what McMahon’s previous novels are like. I own the Winter People, and would love to read it still. If any of you have read her previous pieces of work, please let me know what you thought!

I didn’t hate this, but it wasn’t my new favorite book. I’m going to go ahead and recommend it to anyone just looking for an easy read. I think it’s worth it.


If you enjoyed this, then give it a like and follow my blog. Be respectful and happy reading!

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