The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

I live in Tampa Bay, Florida and I remember when The Dozier School for Boys was closed. I remember when they found the graves, and I remember when the unmarked graves were discovered and had to be explored and dealt with. Even as recently as 2019 they were still working there. My sister-in-law and her husband met each other while they were working there as a psychologist and guard respectively. At the time I was horrified at what I was hearing and seeing on the news, but it’s 2020 now and over the years I have come to understand that this was probably not an isolated occurrence. There are probably similar juvenile detention facilities scattered around the southern states that have graves and atrocities yet to be discovered.

What I really liked about The Nickle Boys, more than The Underground Railroad, was that it was more real to me. The characters were fictionalized, but the circumstances that brought them all to the Nickel School were real ways that black boys and men would get caught up in the system. The main character Elwood is on his way to take a college course in his last year of high school when he accepts a ride from a man who is heading toward the campus. The man has actually stolen the car, and so Elwood is charged with car theft as well for being in it and sent away to Nickel after his conviction. This happens despite the mountains of evidence that would have proved his innocence, but in the 1950s south that was a moot point.

The horrors that Elwood witnesses and experiences for himself you can probably imagine at this point. I don’t need to spell them all out for you. Nickel has a part of the campus for white boys and a part of the campus for black boys and in the middle is the White House where they go for extreme corporal punishment. There’s field work and house work but since it’s for kids it’s not a jail, it’s more like a dorm. Kids try to escape and are never seen again, kids break the rules or refuse to follow directions and are never seen again. Sometimes kids graduate back out into the real world, most of the time they don’t.

Honestly I’m horrified, but I’m not surprised. There was a period of time where as a white woman raised in one of the whitest states in the nation I was shocked and appalled by the things I learned about the racial inequities and history in this country. My education on these topics has been fast and complete and now it’s still horrifying, but I’m not numb to it, but I’m rarely surprised. My reaction now is “of course that happened in this nightmare country.”

It’s a short read, so if you’re curious about the history of the Dozier (Nickel) School, it’s worth it to pick up and bear witness to the story. The more people know that this happened, the lower the chance that these children will be forgotten. I linked to several articles at the beginning of the review if you are interested. It was an excellent read. Go get you some.

The Institute

The InstituteThe Institute was a popular one this past year, and when I first put a hold on it at my library I was number 84 on the list. It finally became available with no renewals, because of course someone else was in line behind me to read it, and so I had 14 days to get through this 600 page thrill ride or else send it back or accept the late fines.

I shouldn’t have worried about it. Once I started I couldn’t stop and I was able to finish it in about 8 days. Children are kidnapped from all over the country and taken to the secluded, northern woodlands of Maine to serve at the institute due to their telekinetic or telepathic abilities. Tests and shots and trauma are inflicted in an attempt to enhance these abilities, and then the children are sent to the back half of the institute, from whence they never return. Not surprisingly when our main character Luke is taken, he’s one of the smartest kids to ever enter the institute. When combined with a later arrival Avery, one of the youngest and most powerful telepaths to ever be brought in, they stage an escape that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I think my favorite King books are the ones that are 90% reality and 10% fantasy. They are the stories that make you believe in the plausibility of the fantastic existing in a world where the daily and mundane tend to hold sway. This story is especially engaging if you know how many children are taken in the US alone every year and never found again; it’s not so unthinkable that something as wild as the institute might be where they were taken, when reality is that it would probably be something just as traumatizing or worse.

Also knowing what I know about northern Maine, you could hide just about anything up there if you had enough money. People say they love Maine but what they mean is that they love the ocean, or Kittery, or Freeport, or Acadia National Park. They don’t know Maine, and the heart of it comes out in so many of King’s books. The terrifying ruralness that hides a multitude of horrors because no one ever goes there to ask questions.

I strongly recommend that you get on your library’s hold list and read this book. It was a fast read for its length, and the story was 100% airtight the entire way. I loved it, and I’m sure you will too. Go get you some.