Love, Ghosts and Family   Leave a comment

Hardcover Sing, Unburied, Sing Book

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is a terse novel involving ghosts, survival, and, at its core, familial bonds. All aspects are told from the perspectives of 13-year-old Jojo; his drug-addicted, negligent mother, Leonie; and Richie, the spirit of a young boy imprisoned years ago for stealing food. The three voices are distinct even as their experiences merge.

Jojo lives with his younger sister and grandparents on a rundown farm near the Mississippi delta. His grandmother lies dying, while Riv, his grandfather, tries to maintain an even keel for his grandchildren. Although, Leonie’s inconsistent presence in their lives isn’t appreciated by anyone, she insists on taking the children on a road trip to the state penitentiary where their father is soon to be released.

Richie’s connection is to Riv who did his best to protect the boy when they were imprisoned at the same time years ago. Jojo, the only one who sees Richie, knows part of his story but Riv has never told him the ending. Since it works to have one ghost, why not another? Leonie’s dead brother, shot down in his youth, makes his presence known only to her.

The phantasms are neither spooky, nor superfluous. Their presence propels the narrative focused on the family ties that bind and those that never do. Jojo is an insightful, caring character much older than age. His closeness to Riv compensates for much that’s missing in his life, but Ward ensures the reader never overlooks the loss they shoulder.

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Four Bookmarks
Scribner, 2017
289 pages

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