books and reading

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Title: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Author: Jesmyn Ward

Genre: own voices, family struggles

My goal every year is to read as many own voices books as possible. The ones that stand out this year include Hurricane Summer, The Broken Earth series, Song of Solomon, Little Fires Everywhere, Miracle Creek, Leaving Atlanta, The Nickel Boys (book of the year for me), Monday’s Not Coming, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. And I will definitely be adding Sing, Unburied, Sing to the list.

From Goodreads: In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

The plot of this book is simple- drive to get this man from prison. But the plot, while meaningful, is the last thing that matters in this book. The language is just perfect. I just couldn’t believe how gorgeous some of the phrases were. The characters are rich and dynamic. Jojo is the best kid you could ask for. He’s kind and full of love for his sister and grandparents. But he also needs his mother’s love, which he will never earn…she’s not a good mother. The bond between Jojo and his sister, Kayla, is critical for her happiness. He’s the person she reaches for first every morning. And as a 13-year-old, he’s so thoughtful and gentle with her.

This book is the first I’ve read of Ward’s, but I will be reading Salvage the Bones for sure. I’m always so skeptical when EVERYONE loves a book, but this one absolutely lived up to the reviews. I cannot recommend this strongly enough.