An infinite brotherhood of broken boys

A review of Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys by Onome Onwah.

The Nickel Boys chronicles the story of young boys who are sent to reform/juvenile homes but unknown to them, they are given a bed in ‘hell.’ The pain inflicted on these young men through beatings, rape and brutal punishments leave them scarred for life.

This experience then informs the title of this review which is from the book, “The Infinite Brotherhood of Broken Boys.” Some make it out, some don’t. But they are tied by their experiences and they are made to confront this every day and form bonds with one another.

With focus on characters like Elwood and Turner, Colson talks sternly about the racial divide that is still a problem in the global society today. Elwood is sent to Nickel because he stole a car and many others are sent there for far simpler crimes. Elwood wants to do right. He is influenced by the letters and speeches of Martin Luther King and he becomes driven to change Nickel and report the cruelty that goes on in there. That decision did not make him heroic.

Elwood and Turner become friends seeing the brutality meted out to people of colour. One incident that stands out is Giff, a boxing champion for the black boys and has remained undefeated, but suddenly disappears after he wins a match against a white contender.

Whitehead bases this fiction on the real events that happened in Florida School of Boys and with this, he shows us how cruel and dehumanising racism can be. The novel is a good one except that it drags on a bit but Colson expertly ties it all together though, the end feels a little rushed.

The language is simple but lacks in its ability to sustain the reader for long. If you are a patient reader looking for some realistic fiction, please read the book.

  • Onwah is a book enthusiast.
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