Archive for the ‘Jesmyn Ward’ Tag

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

Poetry in the Eye of a Storm   Leave a comment


Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is one of those books that once it comes in the front door, makes itself right at home. At first, I was reluctant to let it in. The cover isn’t intriguing and I don’t always appreciate the same books as the friend who recommended this one. Ward’s book, however, is a winning guest. Literally: it’s the 2011 National Book Award Winner.

Fifteen-year-old Esch, her three brothers and frequently-drunk father live in rural coastal Mississippi. The story follows the 12 days leading up to, and including, Hurricane Katrina’s arrival. Despite what appears to be laissez faire parenting, Esch’s father is increasingly concerned about a possible powerful storm making land. In between drinking binges, he tries to ready the family’s ramshackle home.

Told from Esch’s point of view, Ward has crafted a beautifully poetic, heartbreaking story of family love, loyalty and misdirected affection. Esch is an intelligent young woman, but she lives without benefit of another woman’s perspective; her mother died seven years earlier. The only other female around is her brother Skeetah’s pit bull, China.

The impending hurricane and Skeetah’s concern for China are told as parallel accounts. China, bred for fighting, has just given birth to her first litter. Despite their father’s appeals for help to make the house secure, the kids go about their lives as usual: basketball, swimming and hanging out with friends. Even without the storm’s threat, it becomes quickly evident that all is not as carefree as it appears.

Salvage the Bones
Four Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2011
258 pages