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Salvage the Bones

(Bois Sauvage #1)

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  46,261 ratings  ·  5,965 reviews
Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down
Hardcover, 261 pages
Published 2011 by Bloomsbury
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Carrie A The physical aspect is fairly limited, but the main female does learn she is pregnant and can identify the father. For the girls I talk with (as a phy…moreThe physical aspect is fairly limited, but the main female does learn she is pregnant and can identify the father. For the girls I talk with (as a physician) little of what is included will be surprising. This book offers a new way to look at Katrina (or any natural disaster) as it focuses on a single parent, African American family, living in poverty. The family unit, particularly the children, are strong, cohesive, and intelligent. I think the the discussions would be interesting and insightful.(less)
Amanda Himes The first mention of dog-fighting in the book raised my hackles, so to speak, but China's owner loves her more than he loves almost anyone, and he fig…moreThe first mention of dog-fighting in the book raised my hackles, so to speak, but China's owner loves her more than he loves almost anyone, and he fights her for honor, not for money. I'm still against dog-fighting but knowing where he was coming from (and by extension, where West is coming from, whose own father raised pit bulls and sometimes fought them) made it somewhat less reprehensible. The dog is probably the only one in the Batiste family who is NOT neglected, also.(less)

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There is a moment in the beginning of this book when I want to put the book down (the birthing of puppies). There is a point in the middle when I breathe raggedly, as though from a gut punch (Ward’s description of the dog fight). And there are long stretches at the end of this book when I cannot take my horrified eyes from the page, when I feel my insides crumbling and my heart breaking and my memories reeling and I know I have read something extraordinary.

Jesmyn Ward just gives us words, but wo
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The outstanding writing abilities of Jesamyn Ward are indisputable in this emotionally visceral powerhouse of a novel, epic in scope, pitching the indomitable spirit of a family to survive, against all the odds, with the destructive and devastating monster of nature that is Hurricane Katrina, wreaking havoc on the Mississipi coastal town of Bois Sauvage. Esch is the black 14 year old narrator, pregnant, the only girl surroundes by males. Mother died in childbirth, and father is a hard drinking m ...more
Elyse  Walters
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The audiobook Cherise Booth, is outstanding!

Author Jesmyn Ward's writing is beautiful- lyrical....lovely as can be!!!!

Between the Jesmyn's usage of language- poetic - sometimes calming the issues at hand.
and Cherise's engaging voice - "Salvage The Bones" - feels 'real'....tragic - and completely heartbreaking. My heart was racing the last couple of chapters.....where it was almost stopped at beginning. - Two extreme emotions from start to finish.

Most of the book takes place a few
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Being Vulnerable

Mississippi is a strange place. To say it is conservative is a euphemism for... well you make a judgment: It took about 130 years for the State legislature to approve the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution which made slavery illegal (1995 I believe)*. I doubt Mississippi is on many bucket lists. Salvage the Bones explains why it really isn’t a tourist destination.- in addition to the horrid climate.

The family Batiste exists on a knife edge, “starving, fighting, stru
Dec 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
when i finished the book, i realized that the hurricane's presence in it had been much stronger than i had realized at first. even though katrina occupies only two chapters, it seems as if the prose breathes hurricane weather in and out in every chapter -- through water, heat, stifling humidity, the stillness of the air and then the non-stillness of the air as the trees sway in a wind that gives no relief, hunger, dirt, restless sleep. you know it if you've been in a hurricane, but i think havin ...more
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't dull the edges and fall in love with my characters and spare them. Life doesn't spare us. -Jesmyn Ward

The words in this novel are wounds with fragile scabs. This story is the beat of a wounded girl's heart; it bleeds on the page and hurts to read. These words are tears that have not been shed, so they build up on the inside and fill up buckets of anguish:

I learned how to cry so that almost no tears leaked out of my eyes, so that I swallowed the hot salty water of them and felt them ru
Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately, I felt like I was reading an extended undergrad creative writing piece, not an award winning author. The language is just so hard to get through-everything is a simile. I counted 3 uses of "like" to describe someone or something in one short paragraph. I had to slog my way through it, but I did find there were parts that intrigued me more than others and did want to read on, thus not a total dislike.
Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: Mississippi

This was a problematic read for me.

First off, this novel reminds me of three other works of fiction: Little Bee, The Tortilla Curtain and Where the Crawdads Sing. The problem I have with all of these books is that they scream, “I want a movie deal!” This has always been an issue for me. I know that writers make money when their books are bought for movies, but I don't have to like it when the story feels as though it has been contrived, in order
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-clubs

I have no clue how to rate this book. It’s so raw, so visceral, so brutal. It’s a hard story to read because it’s so depressing. It’s saving grace is how beautifully it’s written.

Esch is fourteen and pregnant. Her mother is dead, her father is an alcoholic, basically absent. We’re talking extreme poverty, where food is scarce, everyone is unemployed and theft is a necessity.

The one love affair is basically between Skeetah and his pit bull, China, who’s just had puppies. This was hard for me as
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book takes place over the course of twelve days and in those twelve days a lot happens. A dog, China, becomes a Mother in a very detailed birthing sequence, a young teen, Esch, learns she is going to be a Mother, and Motherless children prepare for a Hurricane in between attending dog fights, fighting among themselves and caring for their drunk father.

Esch and her brothers live in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Their Mother passed away after giving birth and they are left in the care of their
Michael Ferro
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
With 2017 being the most deadly year in U.S. history for hurricanes, and Jesmyn Ward ONCE AGAIN winning the National Book Award for "Sing, Unburied Sing," I figured it was well past time for me to read her debut novel, "Salvage the Bones." And my goodness... what the hell took me so long?

Ward has crafted one of the most spellbinding novels with this effort. The book exudes that southern heat that comes in the hours and days before a monster storm, the vivid landscape of this rural, poor fictiona
“. . . he wanted the other me. The pulpy ripe heart. The sticky heart the boys saw through my boyish frame, my dark skin, my plain face. . . . I’d let boys have it because for a moment, I was Psyche or Eurydice or Daphne. I was beloved.”

Home is on land they call the Pit outside the fictional Mississippi coastal town of Bois Sauvage. Esch’s family is poor, rough, and dirty.

She loves mythology and escapes by reading and imagining. She tells us her first time having sex was when she was twelve
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: botm, favorites
4.5 stars ~

Salvage the Bones is a simple, yet powerful story about a poor black family living in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. The story is broken into twelve chapters - the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.

The narrator is fifteen year old Esch. Much of the story centers around her coming of age - being motherless and among all males. Esch is living in poverty (on a junkyard called The Pit) with a father who drinks too much, one brother raising a pit bull for fighting, and two other br
Celeste Ng
I went to grad school with Jesmyn Ward and have been a fan of her work for years--so I expected to love this book. But I had no idea how deeply it would move me. Some lines stayed with me for days after I'd finished reading it. I couldn't stop thinking about Esch and her family, the grittiness of their world, and the fierceness of their love for each other.
Ron Charles
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When the finalists for the National Book Award in Fiction were announced last month, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was among those critics grumbling about the obscurity of some of the authors (Andrew Krivak?), even some of the publishers (Lookout Books?). Partly, I was annoyed that novels I’ve adored this year (“Doc,” “State of Wonder”) didn’t make the cut, and partly I was operating under the time-tested prejudice that books I’ve read are always better than books I haven’t read.

But one of the
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars.

Poignant and powerful, the story is narrated by fourteen-year-old Esche, who lives in Mississippi with her three brothers and father. Their mother died in childbirth, and the family is struggling both financially and emotionally. They survive the only way they know how. Many of the ways are heartbreaking and would be easy to judge: raising pit bulls, dog fighting, a young teenager looking for love in all the wrong places with all the wrong people, and a father who drinks and is largel
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Unfortunately, I couldn't finish this one. The writing was beautiful and it was a story of family which I love. This was a case of I should have read the synopsis. Sometimes I skip those so I can be surprised but the dog fighting and sick puppies were too much for me. I tried skipping those parts on the audio but I ended up having to skip too often. I will definitely read other books by this author because I like her style.

Summer 2017 Read #20
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Books like this are the hardest for me to review. They stir up complex feelings that I can’t really articulate and maybe don’t even fully understand yet. Jesmyn Ward is such an evocative writer and one of the best in her field. There’s not a word out a place; every paragraph is finely crafted perfection.

The story centers on Esch, a 15 year-old girl living in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, with her three brothers and father. Salvage the Bones follows their lives in the days leading up to Hurricane Ka
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: kari- b/c she loves her some serious reads.
It is so exciting when I read a book that I know will be with me forever. Salvage the Bones seemed at first to be in the same vein as Beans of Egypt, Maine, Bastard Out of Carolina, or The Book of Ruth. *Except* the overall effect is quite different. Instead of violence and desperation Jesmyn Ward gives us sweetness, beauty, and anticipation. Her writing is gorgeous (as one of the characters is racing through the woods his legs are described as looking like black ribbons) and the story is a time ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great writing (5 stars)!!!

Took off one (1) star for the animal cruelty.
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2016
A gritty, tough story about a scrappy family living in poverty in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in a twelve day period encompassing the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. The bleakness of their plight is juxtaposed with hauntingly beautiful prose that is almost poetry. I have a full-fledged author crush on Jesmyn Ward - this woman has supernatural powers. No one else writes like her!

Be prepared for content that may make you cringe, including graphic accounts of dog-fighting. It is essential to this
Julie Christine
Pandemic Time means a chance to read those books on my home library shelves that have been collecting dust for years, which I just never seemed to be in the right mood to take on or felt any urgency to read; there have always too many coming at me from the library that demanded attention.

So I'm late coming to the table with Jesmyn Ward. But she hardly needs my imprimatur! What an extraordinarily gifted writer.

Salvage the Bones uses the looming threat of Hurricane Katrina as a plot foundation,
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jesmyn Ward does an amazing job at getting you to feel things with this book. It's extremely visceral, and warning: quite hard to read at times. There are instances of sexual assault, dog fights, and some bloody accidents that are rendered on the page expertly, but it does make for a tough read. Tread lightly. However, with that comes extreme attachment and love for the characters. I felt so deeply for Esch and her brothers. Their love for each other radiates off the page, even when their action ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
I started the book not impressed and ended the book not impressed. I wasn't blown away by Ward's writing, which I did not find poetic or beautiful (Kundera is my standard for breathtaking prose). However, the story line is solid and Ward tries to give an acute portrayal of the twelve days leading up to Katrina for the Batiste family.

There are many reasons this novel didn't work. For one, Ward fails in many key descriptions. While she can minutely detail the beauty of the woods, in other areas, s
Vincent Scarpa
May 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
By far the most difficult book to trudge through that I've read this year, or in recent history for that matter. Over-stylized + over-aestheticized to the point of being nearly unreadable. A deft reader can sense, from the first page, just how much Ward wants to dazzle with her language—and there are certainly moments where she does—but it feels as if the only motivation and purpose of Salvage the Bones is to demonstrate that Jesmyn Ward can write sentences. She never uses one simile when she ca ...more
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Esch is a 15 year old girl, poor and black, living in Mississippi with her father and three brothers. Her mother's death is an absence that still hurts. Maybe that's why Esch has sex with so many different boys. But now she is in love with a boy that is someone else's boyfriend. And she is pregnant.

This is also a story about China, a pit bull that Esch's brother Skeetah loves with a passion. Although he fights her against other dogs, China has his heart.

A hurricane is coming. They've lived throu
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Update: I did it. I finished it. I skimmed over some spots, but read it, I did. Right to the end. The ending that I am going to believe was a happy one. Yes.


This book seethes with brutality - implied, overt - and I turn each page with my heart in my throat, steeling myself for what is to come.

Kids, dogs subject to abuse, trauma, neglect.

Can't do it. It's beautifully written, even poetic in places, but I can't do it.
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Diane by: Matthew Desmond
Whoo, boy, this novel is grim. "Salvage the Bones" follows a poor family in Mississippi in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. And just like the real-life flood waters that wiped out so many lives and homes, the heaviness of this book washed over me and made it hard to breathe.

Our narrator is Esch, a 15-year-old girl who learns she's pregnant just days before the storm hits. She loves a boy who doesn't love her back, and that heartbreak alone is crushing. Esch's brother Skeetah is devoted
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
So good. So devastating.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
3 stars

Ward seems the be the master of writing deeply depressing poor American families. I would like to say that I enjoyed reading these characters more so than I did those in Sing, Unburied, Sing, but that doesn't feel right. As a reader, I can only state that sometimes I'm too far removed from where the authors head is at and I can't empathize in the way they may want me to. In this gruelling case, a young family of children and their alcoholic dad are trying to find love (possibly in all the
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Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Other books in the series

Bois Sauvage (3 books)
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing
  • Where the Line Bleeds

Articles featuring this book

February is African American History Month, which is the perfect opportunity to expand your reading horizons. Of course, there are the classic...
119 likes · 45 comments
“it is the way that all girls who only know one boy move. Centered as if the love that boy feels for them anchors them deep as a tree's roots, holds them still as the oaks, which don't uproot in hurricane wind. Love as certainty.” 35 likes
“I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.” 15 likes
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