The Week in Books #79

3/14 ✅

New week, new stack! I’m onto the fourth of this pile already and so far I’m loving it. I read The Prophets a few weeks back and it was magical. This week I got through two new ones:

1. Gutter Child by Jael Richardson. Yes yes yes! I loved this. Elimina is sent to an academy where she is trained to be employable and therefore able to work off the debt she is given as someone born in the Gutter. She discovers life at the academy is anything but easy as she fights for control of her own future from under the thumb of a racist and classist system designed to keep her down (sound familiar?) This is a fast paced dystopian with real-life parallels that was very readable. I hate the word “unputdownable” because it sounds like a nonsense word but it really applies in this case. The characters were great and the novel as a whole was well thought out. I’m super curious if there will be more instalments after that ending?? It would make a great series. Definitely recommend.

Set in an imagined world in which the most vulnerable are forced to buy their freedom by working off their debt to society, Gutter Child uncovers a nation divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. In this world, Elimina Dubois is one of only 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of opportunity as part of a social experiment led by the Mainland government.

But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina’s life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all.

Richardson’s Gutter Child reveals one young woman’s journey through a fractured world of heartbreaking disadvantages and shocking injustices. Elimina is a modern heroine in an altered but all too recognizable reality who must find the strength within herself to forge her future and defy a system that tries to shape her destiny.

Harper Collins

2. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. This story is also about a Black teenager sent to an academy, oddly enough, though this one is set in 1960’s Tallahassee and is based on a real academy that was located in Florida. It’s short but packs a punch. It has me thinking about the recent discovery of hundreds of undocumented children’s remains that have been buried beneath Canadian residential “schools” as the academy in this story begins with the discovery of unidentified remains in a secret burial ground behind the facility. These are events that have happened in real life, the consequences of which are still very much unfolding today. Beautifully written and serving up an unexpected twist in the final chapter, I can definitely see why this book has been so popular. Great read.

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers and “should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation’s best” (Entertainment Weekly).

Penguin Randomhouse

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