Book Clubbin’: 10 Discussion Questions for ‘The Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead

Welcome to our monthly blog feature, Book Clubbin’! As most of us are still at home due to the pandemic and social distancing practices, we’re trying our best to stay busy, entertained, and most of all, connected. During this time, we encourage you to reach out to your bookish friends and see if they want to start up a virtual book club!

And if you’re thinking, “I’m busy with homeschooling, working, and so many other things right now, when do you expect me to read!?” That’s where audiobooks come in. You can pop an audiobook on in the background while you’re cooking dinner, relaxing after a long day, or while you’re taking that government-recommended afternoon stroll.

This month our Book Clubbin’ pick is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is an important listen, that centers around a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. The story follows Elwood Curtis and his friend and fellow Nickel boy, Turner. The narrative jumps back and forth from Elwood’s time at Nickel to present day and demonstrates how one decision will echo down the decades.

This month’s pick is a quick listen, but also a devastating one. It’s one that you certainly won’t want to miss. If you’re ready to start discussing The Nickel Boys with your book club, get started with the questions below. Beware— SPOILERS ahead.

—————MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!————

1) Do you think that the racism Elwood endures before going to Nickel differs at all? If so, how?

2) Discuss the relationship Elwood has with education throughout the novel.

3) A student, Jaimie, was half-Mexican and was moved back and forth between the “white” and “colored” sections at Nickel. Why do you think Whitehead added a character of this ethnicity to the story?

4) After Elwood has his first beating how does his outlook on the school and life in general change?

5) Elwood reads about how Nickel contributes to the community. What are your thoughts about how the surrounding community is benefiting from work the Nickel boys have done? Do you see this relating to historical or modern-day practices?

6) What did you think when you found out that present day Elwood was actually Turner, who had taken on Elwood’s name to commemorate him? Are you able to separate the two characters?

7) Why do you think Elwood waited so long to tell Millie the truth about his past and true identity?

8) Who do you think was the villain in The Nickel Boys? Was it the teachers, the community, the school, or someone/something else?

9) After listening to the author’s note at the end of the book, were you surprised to learn that Nickel was based on a real “reform school” that only just closed its doors in 2011? Did this change your feelings about the novel at all?

10) At the very end of the book, roughly 50 years after his time at Nickel, Turner ends up at the Radisson in Tallahassee, which used to be the Richmond. He’s sitting in the very room Elwood used to fantasize about, although he isn’t aware he has fulfilled his friend’s wish of seeing a black person dine at the Richmond. How does this mark of progress make you feel, given all the injustices minorities continue to face today?


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