The Nickel Boys

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The Nickel Boys
The Nickel Boys (Whitehead novel).png
First edition cover
AuthorColson Whitehead
Audio read byJD Jackson[1]
Colson Whitehead
Cover artistNeil Libbert (photograph)[2]
Oliver Munday (design)
CountryUnited States
Set inFlorida and New York City[3]
Publication date
July 16, 2019
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
LC ClassPS3573.H4768 N53 2019

The Nickel Boys is a 2019 novel by American novelist and writer Colson Whitehead.

Development and writing[edit]

After dealing with slavery in his sixth novel, The Underground Railroad, Whitehead did not want to write "[...] another heavy book". However, the election of Donald Trump "compelled" him to do so.[4] Whitehead deliberately narrowed the scope of the book and grounded it for the sake of realism, choosing not to include speculative or fantastic elements of his other novels Zone One or The Underground Railroad.[4]

The Nickel Boys is set at a fictionalized version of the Dozier School for Boys, dubbed Nickel Academy.[5] Whitehead first heard of the real life Dozier School on Twitter in 2014.[4] The school opened in 1900 and closed in 2011. The state of Florida ran Dozier as a reform school.[6] After decades of allegations against the school for allowing the beatings, rapes, torture, and even murder of students by guards and employees, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began an investigation of the claims in 2010, followed by additional investigations by the United States Department of Justice in 2011 and an ongoing forensic investigation by the University of South Florida which began in 2012. The Department of Justice investigation revealed “[...] systemic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls.”[7] The University of South Florida investigation discovered some 55 graves on school grounds by December 2012, and has continued to identify potential grave sites as recently as March 2019.[8]


According to literary aggregator Book Marks the novel received "Rave" reviews.[9]

Parul Sehgal, writing in The New York Times, said "Whitehead has written novels of horror and apocalypse; nothing touches the grimness of the real stories he conveys here."[10] The Washington Post critic Ron Charles wrote, "It shreds our easy confidence in the triumph of goodness and leaves in its place a hard and bitter truth about the ongoing American experiment."[11]

Writing in NPR, Maureen Corrigan said "It's a masterpiece squared, rooted in history and American mythology and, yet, painfully topical in its visions of justice and mercy erratically denied."[12]

The New Republic exclaimed, "The Nickel Boys is fiction, but it burns with outrageous truth."[13] Meanwhile, The Guardian wrote, "He demonstrates to superb effect how racism in America has long operated as a codified and sanctioned activity intended to enrich one group at the expense of another."[14]

It is a finalist for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.[15]


  1. ^ "The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead". Penguin Random House Audio.
  2. ^ "Brilliant Book Covers: The Best Covers of July 2019". Bookish.
  3. ^ Wagner, Erica (July 26, 2019). "The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead — racism in America". Financial Times. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Israel, Yahdon (16 July 2019). ""The Outrage Was So Large and So Secret": Colson Whitehead Talks Hope, Despair, and Fighting the Power in The Nickel Boys". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  5. ^ Grady, Constance (18 July 2019). "Colson Whitehead's spare, riveting, horrifying Nickel Boys". Vox. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  6. ^ Allen, Greg (15 October 2012). "Florida's Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story". NPR. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  7. ^ United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Investigation of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center, Marianna, Florida. 1 December 2011, accessed 15 June 2012.
  8. ^ Montgomery, Ben (April 11, 2019). "More 'possible graves' found at Dozier School for Boys". Tampa Bay Times.
  9. ^ "The Nickel Boys". Book Marks. Literary Hub. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  10. ^ Sehgal, Parul (2019-07-11). "In 'The Nickel Boys,' Colson Whitehead Continues to Make a Classic American Genre His Own". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  11. ^ Charles, Ron. "In Colson Whitehead's 'The Nickel Boys,' an idealistic black teen learns a harsh reality". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  12. ^ "Rooted In History, 'The Nickel Boys' Is A Great American Novel". Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  13. ^ Livingstone, Josephine (2019-07-30). "Colson Whitehead, American Escape Artist". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  14. ^ Forna, Aminatta (2019-07-26). "The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead review – essential follow-up to The Underground Railroad". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  15. ^