The Nickel Boys
by Colson Whitehead

“Even in death the boys were trouble.” So begins this spare and haunting novel from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award (for The Underground Railroad). Whitehead tells the stories of black teenagers sent to The Nickel Academy, a fictional Florida reform school in the Jim Crow era that promises “physical, intellectual and moral training” but delivers monstrous lessons – savage whippings, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, trips to the “out back” from which boys never return. The Nickel Boys focuses on Elwood, who takes Martin Luther King’s teachings to heart and excels in school until he makes an innocent misstep, and Turner, a second-timer at Nickel who protects him until he can’t. Whitehead’s inspiration: accounts and archaeological findings of brutalised bodies secretly buried at a real Florida boys’ school.

The Source of Self-Regard
by Toni Morrison

Morrison’s marvellous new collection offers essays, speeches and meditations on culture, art, and social justice spanning four decades. It includes her eloquent 1993 Nobel lecture, her bittersweet James Baldwin eulogy, commentary on Martin Luther King’s speeches, and revelatory explorations of her own work. Her novel Sula was inspired by a childhood memory of a woman who was easily forgiven by other women; in Beloved, she was interested in what contributed most significantly to a slave woman’s self-regard. “In my own writing, in order to reveal what seems to me the hard and the true and the lasting things, I am drawn to describing people under duress, not in easy circumstances, but backed up into a corner, people called upon to fish or cut bait,” she writes.

The Impeachers
by Brenda Wineapple

On 25 February 1868, Thaddeus Stevens, supported by a House of Representatives vote, commenced the impeachment of Andrew Johnson for “high crimes and misdemeanours in office”. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, had refused to accept acts of Congress, usurped its prerogatives, and had violated a law that he pretended to wave away as unconstitutional. Johnson’s position: “This is a country for white men, and as long as I am president it shall be a government for white men.” Wineapple, a National Book Critics Circle award-winning biographer, recreates the political tensions, the machinations, and the legislative repercussions accompanying the first ever impeachment of a president of the United States – “one of the last great battles with slavery,” as Senator Charles Sumner put it at the time.