In THE NICKEL BOYS, Colson Whitehead wields all the majesty and mastery he displayed in THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD–the power of vision that lets him hold in the same frame, in perfect balance, extremes of both violence and tenderness–but trains all of these elements with a more intimate focus. It’s the story of two boys and the birth and death and rebirth of their dreams; and it’s the story of hope and hopelessness, married forever, survival and its cost in an unjust world. A perfect, essential novel.
I’ve recently finished reading two novels about anti-black racism in the US context: alternate-historical THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead and best-selling YA volume THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. I’d highly recommend both.
They are very different in tone – where Whitehead is formal or even majestic (though without being fussy), Thomas is all sarcastic first-person teenager, replete with sweary onomatopoeia, Harry Potter references and characters arguing about Tumblr. But they both offer important windows into a still-ongoing history of hellish violence and the extraordinary experiences of people who have been brought down by or else forged on through it. These are worth understanding both for their own sake, and because of what they can tell us about the country that continues to hold the power of violence over all of us on this planet. And they are also just cracking good reads.