Reviews for Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In her follow-up fiction to the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, Ward ambitiously fractures the extended family she portrays along race lines and moves her narrative from the tense realism of Southern rural poverty and prejudice to an African American-rooted magic realism. The story shifts among multiple narrators, opening with profoundly sympathetic Jojo and toddler sister Kayla living with grandparents Pop and Mam, who's dying of cancer. Their drug-raddled mother, -Leonie, rarely there and usually mean when she is, invests all her energy in longtime white lover Michael, the father of her children. Their arguments are epically brutal, yet when Michael is released from prison, -Leonie loads the children and friend Misty into the car and rushes north from their Mississippi Gulf home to retrieve him. Interwoven into this story is the moving relationship of near-adolescent Jojo with Pop, who tells Jojo about his own time in prison and his desperate efforts to protect a younger boy named Richie. The narrative, which is occasionally slowed by domestic detail, jerks tightly together on the ride home with the appearance of Richie's ghost and sails through to an otherworldly, vividly rendered ending. VERDICT Lyrical yet tough, Ward's distilled language effectively captures the hard lives, fraught relationships, and spiritual depth of her characters. [See Prepub Alert, 3/8/17.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Ward (Salvage the Bones) tells the story of three generations of a struggling Mississippi family in this astonishing novel. "We don't walk no straight lines. It's all happening at once. All of it. We all here at once." This is the explanation 13-year-old Jojo is provided by his grandmother, the family matriarch, on her deathbed. "I'll be on the other side of the door," she reassures him, "With everybody else that's gone before." Jojo and his little sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, while Leonie, their mother, drifts in and out of their lives, causing chaos. Snorting coke one night, Leonie explains, "A clean burning shot through my bones, and then I forgot. The shoes I didn't buy, the melted cake..." Leonie wants to be a better mother, and when Jojo's and Kayla's father is released from prison, Leonie takes the kids with her, hoping for a loving reunion, but what she gets instead is a harrowing drive across a muggy landscape haunted by hatred. Throughout the novel, though, are beautifully crafted moments of tenderness. When the dead, including Leonie's murdered brother, make their appearances and their demands, no one in the family's surprised. But their stories are deeply affecting, in no small part because of Ward's brilliant writing and compassionate eye. (Sept.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The terrible beauty of life along the nation's lower margins is summoned in this bold, bright, and sharp-eyed road novel.In present-day Mississippi, citizens of all colors struggle much as their ancestors did against the persistence of poverty, the wages of sin, and the legacy of violence. Thirteen-year-old Jojo is a sensitive African-American boy living with his grandparents and his toddler sister, Kayla, somewhere along the Gulf Coast. Their mother, Leonie, is addicted to drugs and haunted by visions of her late brother, Given, a local football hero shot to death years before by a white youth offended at being bested in some supposedly friendly competition. Somehow, Leonie ends up marrying Michael, the shooter's cousin, who worked as a welder on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The novel's main story involves a road trip northward to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, where Michael's about to be released from prison. Leonie, very much a hot mess, insists on taking both children along to pick up their father even though it's clear from the start that Jojowho's more nurturing to his sister than their mother isin no way wants to make the journey, especially with his grandmother dying from cancer. Along the way, Jojo finds he's the only one who sees and speaks to another spirit: Richie, an ill-fated friend of his grandfather's who decades before was imprisoned at a brutal work camp when he was slightly younger than Jojo. Ward, a National Book Award winner for Salvage the Bones, (2011), has intimate knowledge of the Gulf Coast and its cultural complexities and recounts this jolting odyssey through the first-person voices of Jojo, Leonie, and occasionally Richie. They each evoke the swampy contours of the scenery but also the sweat, stickiness, and battered nerves that go along with a road trip. It's a risky conceit, and Ward has to work to avoid making her narrators sound too much like poets. But any qualms are overpowered by the book's intensely evocative imagery, musical rhetoric, and bountiful sympathy toward even the most exasperating of its characters. Remorse stalks the grown-ups like a search party, but grace in whatever form seems ready to salve their wounds, even the ones that don't easily show. As with the best and most meaningful American fiction these days, old truths are recast here in new realities rife with both peril and promise. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, while their mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse) that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day journey to the infamous Parchman prison to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved and reverberating racial and family tensions and entanglements: long-buried memories of Pop's time in Parchman, the imminent death of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning of the children's own spiritual gifts. Ward alternates perspectives to tell the story of a family in rural Mississippi struggling mightily to hold themselves together as they are assailed by ghosts reflecting all the ways humans create cruelty and suffering. In her first novel since the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2017 Booklist