‘The Nickel Boys’ – Colson Whitehead

There’s no doubting that this is a story some would prefer not told, and though it’s a story that won’t take long to read it is one that will remain with you for a long time.
Our story is about Elwood, a young black boy who grows up conscious of his differences but determined to try to hang onto the things that he has in common with others. From an early age, Elwood showed a fierce determination to better himself and to do the right thing. His desire to learn finds him accepting a lift from someone, and because it’s a stolen car Elwood is sent to the Nickel Centre.
It’s meant to be a juvenile facility but the boys are segregated and, from early on, we see that beatings and abuse are prevalent. Nobody challenges this established order, and it becomes ever harder for Elwood to maintain belief in the words of Dr King.
When he is hospitalised after his first beating (so severe he passes out and is unsure how many times he was hit), Elwood is befriended by Turner. They develop as close a friendship as possible in such an environment, and Turner goes against everything he believes in when Elwood is threatened with being taken ‘out back’.
The two boys run.
What happens next is hard to believe, but this is a story that has to be heard. How such behaviour could be condoned for so long is appalling, and I can understand why Whitehead felt this story needed to be told.