Colson Whitehead’s newest novel, The Nickel Boys, shines a light on a more gruesome corner of our history. Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that ran for 111 years and altered the lives of thousands of young children. Set during the Jim Crow-era, one small mistake propels Elwood Curtis from the black enclave of Frenchtown, the segregated part of Tallahassee, to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy in Florida. Elwood soon discovers the horrific reality of this place and has nothing to hold onto but the words of Dr. King “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner sees more of the crookedness and darkness in the world and the boys are pushed to a decision that will change the course of both of their futures.
For two other great novels about how to find oneself among others and still belong, check out The Expectations by Alexander Tilney. Ben Weeks is about to start at the boarding school his family as gone to for generations, but he soon finds out that his expectations were quite far from reality and he must navigate a new set of unspoken rules. Also be sure to check out They Come in All Colors by Malcolm Hansen. Set during 1968, Huey is uprooted from Georgia to New York where racism lurks everywhere and he is the only black person at school besides the janitor. One small slip up and he finds himself facing legal charges. Both of these novels are tender coming of age stories that explore race, identity and family.
Jacqueline Woodson paints the story of a duel world inside Brooklyn in her novel Another Brooklyn. The story of hope, friendship and brilliance but also a place of darkness, danger and loss. August returns to her home at 35 to bury her father. While she is there, she meets old friends and can’t help but remember her experiences growing up.
Washington Black was born on a sugar plantation in Barbados and it is the only life he has ever known. His master’s brother is a scientific naturalist, inventor, explorer and abolitionist. One day, he hires Washington to be his manservant on his travels. The two soon bridge the divide to see each other as human and Washington sees a life of dignity. A man dies and a bounty is placed on Washington’s head so he must flee and invent a new life for himself.
Be sure to check out our Recommendations Page for even more librarian curated picks!