Elwood Curtis is a good student with a part time job, a stable home life, and a promising future. The civil rights movement, especially the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., inspire him. So it is surprising and unjust when he innocently hitches a ride with a car thief and winds up in the Nickel Academy, a reform school rife with abuse and corruption. There he is befriended by Turner, a cynic who has been in and out of the Academy multiple times, who teaches him how to navigate the sadistic guards and very real dangers of the Academy. Inspired by true events at a similar school in Florida, and set against the cruelty and injustice of the Jim Crow South, The Nickel Boys explores the tension between ideals and cynicism, and how the system warped the lives of those it touched.