Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Published by Scribner on September 5th 2017
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5 stars doesn’t feel like enough.
How to describe a book that is both heartbreaking, sad, raw and yet hopeful all at the same time? That really is the question. I’ll start by saying that I found Ward’s writing to be haunting, beautiful and poetic. I loved the imagery she provoked. I felt like I was on the farm with the family and then in the car on the journey to pick up Michael at the Penitentiary. I was right there in the barn when the goat was being slaughtered and also there when the police pulled them over.
JoJo, dear sweet Jojo, and his younger sister Kayla live with their Maternal grandparents on their farm in Mississippi. Their Mother, Leonie, lives there as well but she has an addiction problem and although she is their Mother, doesn’t really know what to do with them. JoJo loves to spend time with his Grandfather who is teaching him how to be a man. JoJo looks up to his grandfather who tells him stories and is a constant and steady figure in his life. His Grandfather’s action speak of love even if he does not say the words himself. I thought their relationship was beautiful. JoJo feels safe, comfortable, accepted, and loved by his Grandfather. As I mentioned his Grandfather is the one thing in his life that he can depend upon. He wants to please his Grandfather and struggles with being thirteen caught between childhood and being a mature teen. He wants to be seen as a man but wants to cuddle with his Grandfather and put his head on his shoulder. There is something quite beautiful in the fact that no matter what JoJo does, he receives love and no judgement from his grandfather. JoJo also lives with his Grandmother who is dying of Cancer. Another constant in his life, she always made sure he was fed when his Mother forgot. JoJo is often left to care for his 3 year old sister, Kayla, who seems to prefer him to anyone else in the family. He is her primary caregiver and serves as her safety net.
Life seems normal, until his Mother announces that she is taking JoJo and Kayla to pick up their father (their White father) from the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Neither child wants to go with their Mother but she prevails and takes them along on an eventful ride to pick up their father and bring him home.
Leonie has loved Michael since he approached her after her brother was killed. She knows how to love him but doesn’t quite know how to love her children. She does love them – she just hasn’t got Mothering down. Is she a horrible Mother – yes, but yet she is sympathetic as a messed up character who tries and fails. She loves her kids and had a loving Mother but just can’t get her act together. Leonie is an addict who is tormented by the ghost of her Brother who was killed while hunting. Her boyfriend and father of her children is White and his family has never accepted her or her children.
Leonie is not the only family member who can see ghosts…that is all I will say about that.
Ghosts!?! who say, well don’t let that be a turn off. Seriously, don’t! This book is wonderfully beautiful, sad and poetic. I know I have said that before but this book is that good. This book is character driven. It doesn’t matter if you lover her characters or hate them, you will love this book. We also see that not all character are good. We the reader see good characters doing bad things but we will forgive them and still love them (ahem Pop).
This book has just about everything but the kitchen sink: racism, mixed families, poverty, crime, death, addiction, parentified children and yes, ghosts!
I had no idea what I was getting into when I requested to read an ARC of this book. I will be 100% honest, I requested based on a friend’s review and I was blown away. I have not read Ward’s “Salvage the bones” but it is going on my to-read list! Ward has created a poignant raw book that had me turning page after page and loving every single word. I literally read this entire book in one day. Sing, Unburied, Sing is my first book by Jesmyn Ward but it will not be my last!!!!
I received a copy of this book from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.