Cbr12bingo Cannonballer Says, BINGO x2: vertical Red to Money, horizontal Cannonballer Says to Adaptation
For the second year in a row, my Cannonballer Says square is filled with a book reviewed by TeresaElectro! Last year it was Rebecca Roanhorse’s excellent Trail of Lightning. This year it’s Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Nickel Boys. Four years ago I reviewed Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which was an amazing tour de force dealing with American history and American racism. The Nickel Boys is another clear-eyed, no-punches-held look at American racism but this time circumscribed by time and place. It is, however, no less powerful in its indictment of institutional racism and the violence and horror that white authority visits upon Black bodies in the United States.
The Nickel Boys is set in Florida in the 1960s and provides the perspective of two Black teenagers caught up in a reform school, the Nickel Academy, that could also be described as a house of horrors. Whitehead based Nickel upon a real school that was revealed to have systematically abused and even killed the Black youths who were sent to it. Narrators Elwood and Turner seem a mismatched duo. Elwood is an idealist who tries to live by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King and who admires and follows the activities of those involved in the Civil Rights movement. He follows the rules and aspires to attend college while also getting more involved in the movement. Turner is more of a realist/pragmatist who harbors no such dreams in a world dominated by Jim Crow. Elwood ends up at Nickel due to an injustice that both infuriates you and breaks your heart. His idealism and dedication to the path of MLK is admirable but dangerous at Nickel, something that is obvious to Turner and will lead to terrible consequences for both.
In addition to 1960s Florida, Whitehead takes the reader ahead 20 years to New York City, where Elwood is trying to build a life for himself and leave Nickel behind. When news of an excavation and the discovery of bodies on the site of the former Nickel Academy makes the national news, the past comes crashing down on Elwood, forcing him to remember and try to come to terms with what ultimately happened to him there. The end of this novel involves a stunning twist and a final scene that gave me chills in a good way.
Colson Whitehead is an amazing writer. He takes on the vast and difficult topic of race in America and crafts stories that are hard to read yet impossible to put down. His characters will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book, and I think you will see examples of the injustices he highlights everywhere around you.