Colson Whitehead’s novel, NICKEL BOYS is the real story of a 111 year old State of Florida “Reform School. ” Colson’s characters live the story of the NICKEL ACADEMY, which is actually a chamber of horrors, brutality, sexual abuse and racism. Children disappear into a hidden cemetery located behind the what is in reality a children’s prison.
Elwood, a black youth abandoned by his parents and raised by his grandmother is a teenager with great potential. He becomes a NICKEY BOY by inadvertently riding in the wrong car as he heads off to college. But Elwood is a reformer, a believer that things can change even from inside an abusive and racist ” Reform School.” He must first survive and then set about his work.
Colson weaves reality into an enormously compelling and emotional narrative as can only be accomplished by a great novelist. From within the decadence of NICKEL ACADEMY and the plight of those incarcerated there comes a glimmer of hope for reform from a determined Elwood.
Colson’s novel is representative of numerous ” Reform Schools” operating throughout America during the early to mid twentieth century. Fortunately most were closed but the stories of hundreds of “missing” youths remain to be discovered.