From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad, a novel about two black teenage boys—one idealistic, the other skeptical—trying to survive the horrors of a brutal Jim Crow era reform school.
...a tautly focused and gripping portrait of two African American teens during the last vicious years of Jim Crow ... Whitehead’s magnetic characters exemplify stoicism and courage, and each supremely crafted scene smolders and flares with injustice and resistance, building to a staggering revelation. Inspired by an actual school, Whitehead’s potently concentrated drama pinpoints the brutality and insidiousness of Jim Crow racism with compassion and protest.
Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead’s brilliant examination of America’s history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight.
Just as The Underground Railroad recalls nineteenth-century escaped-slave narratives, The Nickel Boys contains numerous reminders of Ralph Ellison’s up-from-the-Jim-Crow-South classic, Invisible Man ... Why Whitehead might want The Nickel Boys to remind readers of Invisible Man is a mystery to me. Ellison’s novel is a grand literary epic of the great migration, and his characters therefore often represent large cultural, economic, and political forces. Invisible Man is also a compendium of different styles from Joycean stream of consciousness to vernacular realism. The Nickel Boys is by comparison a much more limited work, its purview narrower and more personal. But the novel has a saving grace—or horror: its historical exactitude ... Whitehead may have chosen his rather diffident style and narrative speed to avoid melodrama and sentimentality, features that sometimes flawed The Underground Railroad. But to me The Nickel Boys is more like the outline of a novel than like the best novels that Whitehead wrote before the success of The Underground Railroad.