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Bois Sauvage #2

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Win a free kindle copy of this book!

29 days and 11:33:50

100 copies available
U.S. only
Rate this book
Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2017)
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.

285 pages, Hardcover

First published September 5, 2017

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About the author

Jesmyn Ward

24 books7,067 followers
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.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,165 reviews
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,784 followers
September 8, 2017
2 stars--blame it on the ghosts

It was the ghosts, folks. It was the ghosts that made me do it. They made me change my mind and go with 2 stars instead of my original 3. It’s just that they were such a big part of this book. If they had been smaller and kept their mouths shut, I would be handing you 3 stars. I wanted to be closer in stars to my gushing friends, but that just didn’t happen. I didn’t like this book, period. And of course, I have a Complaint Board to prove it.

I did like a few things about the book, so let me start with the Joy Jar:

Mesmerizing language. For a while, it took me to a cool place and created a strong mood.

Intense family. I was interested in the family. It’s biracial, with a junkie mom, nice kids, kind grandparents, and a dad who just got out of prison. They are poor and they live in the deep South.

He said, she said. I liked the format of having two narrators who alternated chapters.

Jojo was a nice kid. One of the main characters, a 12-year-old boy named Jojo, was super well-drawn and sympathetic.

An intense car ride, punctuated by a lot of puke. (Yes, seldom do you see the word “puke” in the Joy Jar.) There was a harrowing road trip, which had me twitching with interest and fear. Nearly half the book took place in a claustrophobic car full of sweat, vomit, and tension. Inside were two poor kids and three drug-addicted adults.

But my Complaint Board is way fuller. Here goes:

Sure, I’ve always wanted to hear the gory details of a goat being slaughtered. The very first scene, POW, a grandpa is showing his grandson how to kill and gut a goat. Seriously. I had to skip pages, it was so graphic. The boy then carried goat parts into the house where these parts would be cooked and served for din din. This scene threw me for a loop and I became very wary of what I was signing up for. I will say that that was the only slaughter scene, but still…what a way to start a book! I know the author was going for authenticity—yes, they are ruggedly poor people who eat goat—but I do think the story would have been just fine without this scene.

Get real. They would if they could, but ghosts just can’t get real. Okay, I try to like ghosts (and occasionally I can), but here they chased me right out of town. I just can’t shut up about these annoying ghosts, can I? They are major characters here and I just wanted to shove them out of the book. They took up a lot of space. There were two of them (one for each main character) sitting in the back seat of a car or just walking around outside--in general getting in the way of the real people. And of course, there were entire conversations that took place between the ghosts and the main characters. To make matters worse, the ghosts sometimes had their own chapters! “Oh no!,” I yelled, as I saw the ghost’s name head the chapter. I wanted to get back to the real story. Real people. (Never mind that they are characters, lol, not real people.) Hm....if it had been a ghost who slaughtered the goat, would I have been less upset? Lol, you have to wonder.

I like the scenery, but can we talk? This is where the language did a little overkill in the mesmerizing department. Rich language often turns into work for me when a lot of it is used to describe scenery. I prefer dialogue, internal monologue, and drama.

Character clichés. Except for Jojo, the characters just seemed to be stereotypes: the junkie mom, the kind granddad. I didn’t feel any attachment.

A little woo-woo makes me weary. Besides the ghosts, which were bad enough, there were magic herbs and an overall woo-woo feel. Let me out of here.

Where did these big words that begin with “i” come from? Here we are in the rural south with little education, and occasionally big words--SAT vocabulary words with 4 or 5 syllables—come out of the characters’ mouths. Twelve-year-old Jojo, his junkie mom, and even a ghost uttered one of these three words: inexorably, indomitable, immolating. What? I don’t even use these words. In fact, I had to look them up! And there were several other sophisticated words and sentence structures. An editor should have been checking the authenticity of voice better.

Drama in the car. Quite a tense car ride (and except for the ghost squeezed below the seats, I liked it). I don’t want to give anything away, but based on the tone and content of the story, I thought things were going in a different direction than they did. In a way, this seemed anti-climactic. (Hand covering mouth so I don’t reveal anything.)

The name game. Again, an editorial nit. The mom always called her toddler by Michaela; her twelve-year-old son called her Kayla. Toward the end, mom was suddenly using Kayla instead. This seemed like something the editor missed.

Crawling along. I found it slow going for most of the read. Looking at page numbers is always a bad sign.

As I said earlier, this is a book I desperately wanted to love, if for no other reason than to be part of the crowd. I do think the writing is brilliant; it’s just not my cup of tea. I liked Ward’s earlier award-winning book, Salvage the Bones, better, though it still only earned 3 stars from me. I’m pretty sure I won’t try Ward’s next one.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
September 16, 2018
"I washed my hands every day, Jojo. But that damn blood ain't never come out."

Such a stunning book.

Sing, Unburied, Sing captivated me almost instantly. THIS is how character-driven family dramas should be, and there's nothing quite like a nice bit of dysfunctional family drama to keep me turning pages. But I don't want to diminish the strength of this novel. It is a character study of a contemporary African-American family in Mississippi, but it is also a darkly beautiful story about ghosts. In the literal and figurative sense.

Ward creates a really strong sense of place. I could easily picture this rural poor Southern setting with its history of racial tensions that have never quite gone away. From the beginning, I knew this was going to be something special. The writing pulls you into this world, into the minds and lives of the vivid characters. They burn so brightly.
The sky has turned the color of sandy red clay: orange cream. The heat of the day at its heaviest: the insects awoken from their winter slumber. I cannot bear the world.

Into this setting, the author introduces the perspectives of Leonie, a drug addict increasingly haunted by the ghost of her brother, Given, who was shot by a white football player. The other main perspective is Leonie's teen son, Jojo, who is more of a parent to his young sister than Leonie has ever been. They live with Leonie's parents - known throughout as Mam and Pop - the former ravaged by chemo, and the latter haunted by the ghosts of his own dark past.

Many stories from the past emerge through Mam and Pop, including the story of young Richie, a prisoner from Pop's tales of his time in jail. Richie also occasionally takes the narrative in between Pop's revelations about the horrors inside Mississippi State Penitentiary, and the gradually-uncovered truth of Richie's fate.

It is rich in glorious, horrific detail from the very opening when Jojo assists Pop in gutting a goat. Ward evokes emotions with description - the grisly unravelling of the goat's innards, Leonie's dreamy drug-induced escapes, the sticky, swampy atmosphere. The more I read, the more I felt the air clinging to my skin, and the more I felt the characters getting under it.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a story both dark and bright. Issues of race, death and extremely messy family dynamics are prominent features, but the brightness is obtained from the author's overwhelming empathy for her characters, even at their worst. Leonie is a terrible mother, but she is portrayed as nothing more or less than a messed-up human being. Pop's history will paint him in an increasingly unflattering light, but do we forgive him? Of course we do.

A gorgeous - though dark - story for anyone who loves complex families and messy, lovable characters. It deserves every bit of the hype.

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Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
June 22, 2018
Beautifully written. So many layers. I don't know that there is another writer who captures the complexities of the south and the legacies of racism as well as Ward. This is a brilliant novel. But also, I did want the characters and the overall narrative to be more fully developed, or perhaps more multi-dimensional. An absolute must-read, regardless.
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
February 18, 2021
looking for great books to read during black history month...and the other eleven months? i'm going to float some of my favorites throughout the month, and i hope they will find new readers!

Sometimes, the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes, it withholds.

so, i’ve been meaning to review this for a couple of weeks now, and it’s a real challenge, because there is no universe in which i feel qualified to convey how damn good this book is. up there it’s compared to morrison and faulkner, the odyssey and the old testament, and that’s probably true, but i’m no authority - i’ve only read one book each from morrison and faulkner, the parts of the odyssey i liked best all involved monsters, and the old testament seems to flavor nearly every book i love - all that vengeful grit lit/western stuff where people do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

but none of that even comes close to what i got out of this book. for one thing, her writing is phenomenally seductive, but it’s the kind of seductive that hypnotizes you right into a steel trap. or like OH I GET IT NOW - the sirens in the damn odyssey. i’d never read her before, but you better believe i’m going to dig up my copy of Salvage the Bones because this right here is the kind of writing that i adore: pure storytelling, strong descriptions, bleak situations, with a spoonful of magical realism on top.

there are two narrative voices here*: thirteen-year-old jojo and his mother leonie. the family dynamic is very messy - leonie is a drug addict who has left jojo and her three-year-old daughter kayla in the care of her elderly parents, mam and pop, breezing in and out of their lives in varying stages of sobriety and maternal inclination while their father michael is incarcerated on drug charges. mam is slowly dying of cancer and pop is haunted by the past, but he is devoted to the children - an absolute rock in the maelstrom. addiction and neglect are bad enough, but ward gives the family an extra layer of conflict - leonie is black, michael is white, and his racist parents disapprove of their relationship so much that they have no relationship whatsoever with their grandchildren. still not bad enough? nope, says ward, and gives that knife one more shakespearian twist - when they were teenagers, michael’s cousin killed leonie’s brother given; a hate crime passed off as a hunting accident. and now, when leonie is high, she sees given’s ghost, a presence unable to communicate with her, but he makes his disapproval of her choices quite obvious.

that ward isn’t one to take the easy road is clear just by introducing these elements, but she also refrains from passing too-easy judgments, or allowing her readers to do so. the natural impulse would be to sympathize with jojo and the difficulties of his life - his birthday party is downright heartbreaking - while making leonie the villain; a mother who does cocaine while pregnant, who abandons her children, who is impatient and inept at the very basic responsibilities of being a mother. however, in her POV chapters, we see what she could be if she weren’t an addict; her good intentions and her self-loathing at all her parental failures, her helplessness in overcoming her addiction despite how much it has cost her - seeing the disappointment in her son harden into resignation, seeing kayla reach out for jojo, never for her, seeing her father distance himself from her:

”Leonie,” Pop says.

I wish he would call me something else. When I was younger he would call me “girl.” When we were feeding the chickens: Girl, I know you can throw that corn further than that. When we were weeding the vegetable garden and I complained about my back hurting: You too young to know pain, girl, with that young back. When I brought report cards home with more As and Bs than Cs: You a smart one, girl. He laughed when he said it, sometimes just smiled, and sometimes said it with a plain face, but it never felt like censure. Now he never calls me by anything but my name, and every time he says it, it sounds like a slap.

it’s hard not to feel pity for her.

this book is a superlative literary achievement in every way.

the road trip is so vividly written: muggy and claustrophobic and perfumed with a toddler’s vomit - it takes you right into all the unpleasantness and tedium of a long car ride and it is relentless. the children are the best i’ve ever read - jojo is a sponge of a character - a dour observer internalizing the world’s lessons, passing judgment as silently as given, taking on the responsibility of caring for kayla in perfect little man fashion. and kayla is so realistically written that she feels like a hologram - sweet, cranky, needy, sick - every scene she’s in made it feel more like watching than reading.

but my most appreciative praise is reserved for how ward maintains emotional balance throughout, and ultimately resists either some cheesily happy ending or a shakespearian heap of bodies; snowballing tragedy for tragedy’s sake. it sticks its landing perfectly, realistically nuanced and whatever a less-overused synonym for “complicated” is.

to sum up: there is no universe in which i feel qualified to convey how damn good this book is.

* ombudsmen will say "three," but the third is a ghost and only gets three chapters.


if reader-responses built rocketships and mathematical precision really mattered, i would pipe up and confess that i did not love the last page and a half, so it would be just shy of five stars. but no one's going off to colonize mars on my say-so, so five stars it is.

full review to come.

i'm only about halfway through, but so far this is an easy five-star book. stay gold, book!!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Felice Laverne.
Author 1 book3,204 followers
February 12, 2020
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is true Southern Gothicism at its finest. It is a novel that I’ve been waiting a very long time to read, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. There is so much within these pages—so much angst, so much wonder and so much sorrow—that I am still grappling with it even now. And that’s a wonderful thing, the best feeling and the most lasting impression a writer can ever bestow on their reader.

I read, before reading this novel, that Jesmyn Ward had recently been called the modern-day Faulkner, and I doubted this, I admit, likely because of all the books out there I’ve encountered doing reviews that are buoyed up by their awe-inspiring cover flaps and exalted comparisons to other, greater works, only to fall flat on their faces under the weight of such lofty and inaccurate comparisons. But Sing, Unburied, Sing is the real deal. Its utter humanity and heart churns and brews on every page, particularly leading up to the climax, never shying away from the reality of hard living, always staring it down right in its face, urging us to look it in the face, too. Don’t turn away. I could never turn away.

This is the tale of two Mississippi families, one black and one white, joined by bloodshed and bloodlines. Joined by love and hatred, by death and birth. But this is also a coming-of-age story of one teenaged boy, Jojo, whose life is forever changed. Jojo is the biracial son of the often high, often absent Leonie—who sees her murdered brother, Given, in drug-induced hallucinations—and Michael, whose hostile, racist family will never accept his black girlfriend and half-breed children. Jojo is caught between being a parent to his three-year-old sister, Kayla, and learning to be a man from his grandfather, Pop. But this place he is emotionally sandwiched between is a place he calls home, a place of comfort and togetherness, between Kayla and Pop—until Leonie comes back from a bender and piles them all in the car on the way to Parchman Penitentiary to retrieve Michael from the prison that has changed and ended so many lives connected to theirs. It is on this journey that Jojo sees the naked truth of racial hierarchies and the hatred the South is all too known for and discovers his gift of sight he never knew he had. And it is also on this journey that Jojo faces who his mother is, what she is capable of and what she will never be.

“When I wake, Michael’s rolled all the windows down. I’ve been dreaming for hours it feels like, dreaming of being marooned on a deflated raft in the middle of the endless reach of the Gulf of Mexico…Jojo and Michaela and Michael with me and we are elbow to elbow. But the raft must have a hole in it, because it deflates. We are all sinking, and there are manta rays gliding beneath us and sharks jostling us. I am trying to keep everyone above water, even as I struggle to stay afloat. I sink below the waves and push Jojo upward so he can stay above the water and breathe, but then Kayla sinks and I push her up, and Michael sinks so I shove him in the air as I sink and struggle, but they won’t stay up: they want to sink like stones…they keep slipping from my hands…I am failing them. We are all drowning.”

If a hallmark of Southern writing is setting, Ward’s novel offers that in spades. Here, in the blazing sun of Mississippi, you can feel the sweat dripping from the characters’ brows, feel their pulse as they confront one another—as they confront themselves. The suffering within these pages was tangible, palpable, like a pulse in the air, a drumbeat at the turn of every page. It marked the characters’ lives just as numbers mark the bottom of each page. But Ward goes beyond that—beyond the quintessential tale of Southern burdens, anguish and racial hate, beyond the stereotypes we can all so readily pluck from our minds to describe the Bible Belt in all its historical wonder and terror.

My one note of criticism is that the voices didn't always sound realistic for the characters. JoJo and Leonie's chapters often sounded like they were coming from the same voice (the sophisticated voice of the author rather than the rugged voices of folks who have been through some "thangs") and that rang false to me. But, when I say that Sing, Unburied, Sing is true Southern Gothicism at its finest, I mean that it binds, bridges and merges every aspect of the genre—social commentary, magical realism, surrealism and grit. Blood, sweat, tears, but, most of all: haunting and poetic soul. That, it did in spades despite the hiccup with the voices.

This novel will stay with me for a long time. There were aspects of this book that I did not immediately like, but that all came together in the end. And, quite honestly, I haven’t read such an emotively resonating ending like that since Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif,” and for that I could only ever give a well-deserved 5 stars. *****

**I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, Scribner, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,602 reviews24.8k followers
September 23, 2017
This is a profoundly moving novel that tears your heart apart from the hugely gifted Jesmyn Ward. It is Southern Gothic at its most impressive, set in the burning heat of the Mississippi Gulf coast. It speaks of neglectful parents, ill equipped to bring up their mixed race children. The black Leonie is a drug addict and troubled woman, moving in and out of 13 year old JoJo and his toddler sister, Kayla's lives as they reside with their beloved grandparents, Mam and Pop, who provide safety, security and love for them. They call their mother Leonie, not mum, as she is scarcely a mum. Leonie resents this and the close bond between JoJo and Kayla, Kayla turns to JoJo to have her needs met. Their father, Michael, is in Parchman prison, about to be released.

This is a story of poverty, love, grief, loss, abuse, brutality, race, injustice, family, addiction, and ghosts. It tells of the ugliness of US history and how it informs the present. The pain of the black experience as it moved seamlessly from the plantations in the past, to the prison today, from one nightmare to another. Mam, a healer, has cancer and is dying, Pop tells his stories, like that of the doomed Richie at Parchman, to JoJo, a boy with responsibilities and a maturity way beyond his years and a boy who can see and hear what others cannot. Under the influence of drugs, Leonie can see her dead brother, Given, which both frightens and comforts her. Leoni packs her children into a car embarking on a road trip to meet Michael, who she loves, on his release from Parchman. On a trip that brings danger and destruction, and the truth of Leoni and race to JoJo. The ghost of Richie searches for home in a song.

This is a novel that journeys into the soul of Mississippi, its history and people vibrating and shimmering in the air and land. Nothing disappears, it is all there informing the present, with spirits and ghosts seen by those with the sight. Ward writes with humanity and insight, painting an unflinching portrait of a nation and its people. It is lyrical and poetic, and amidst the heart of darkness and pain, is hope and love. Her complex and nuanced characters, rich descriptions and compelling narrative, spirits and ghosts, are the song of Mississippi and the US. A hauntingly brilliant read which I highly recommend. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for an ARC.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,635 followers
December 18, 2017
3.5 stars

Well, this was certainly an intense, beautifully written novel. I have to admit I went into this with some very high expectations, but also with a bit of reluctance. I have seen much praise lavished on this book, and deservedly so despite my lower ranking compared with many of my trusted and much-respected Goodreads friends. I also had prior knowledge of a fairly large dose of magical realism which can sometimes muddy my enjoyment of a book. However, I took the plunge, grabbed a copy, and immersed myself in the ugly reality of poverty, racism, drug addiction and grief.

Every major character in this book is haunted by either physical ghosts or his or her own imaginary, but all too real, demons from a troubled past. My heart bled for thirteen year old Jojo and little sister Kayla who have been all but bodily abandoned by their emotionally detached and drug addicted mother, Leonie. Raised by Mam and Pop, the children are still fortunate enough to be given a fairly healthy dose of love and compassion from these devoted grandparents. Jojo, who is forced to grow up so fast at such a tender age, admires his grandfather and aspires to emulate him and earn his respect. "I liked most of the things Pop did, liked the way he stood when he spoke, like the way he combed his hair back straight from his face and slicked it down so he looked like an Indian in the books we read in school on the Choctaw and Creek, liked the way he let me sit in his lap and drive his tractor around the back, liked the way he ate, even, fast and neat, liked the stories he told me before I went to sleep." And stories did he tell. In particular, Pop shares one story involving his time spent in the penitentiary up in Parchman. But there are holes in this story that Jojo longs to have filled in. Mam, grieving the wrongful death of her son years ago, is now on her own end-of-life journey as the cancer that once tried to claim her has now returned with a vengeance. "She’s too sick with the cancer that came and left and returned, steady as the rising and sinking of the marsh water in the bayou with the moon."

Upon hearing that Jojo and Kayla’s father, Michael, is to be freed after a three-year stint of his own up at Parchman, Leonie decides to pack up her kids to greet him on his day of release. Jesmyn Ward then takes the reader along with Leonie, a fellow junkie named Misty, and the children on a ride through Mississippi to the gates of the state penitentiary. Not only do we witness a physical drive through the state, but the remainder of the book reflects a spiritual journey as well. This is where I lost my connection with the novel. The story becomes increasingly brutal to read, with so many poor decisions on the part of the mother, the friend, and eventually the father as well. “I see dead people.” I could not get the echo of those words from M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 movie The Sixth Sense out of my head from this point forward! I know this portion of the book wasn’t meant to sit well with the reader, but I just felt detached. Perhaps it jumped back and forth a bit too much between narrators, or perhaps it was the ghostly voices that tormented me. Much of the writing itself I found stunning, yet I can’t quite pin down what unfastened me from the narrative.

I can’t say I loved Sing, Unburied, Sing, yet I hugely appreciated it. Despite the great sense of loss and the feeling of hopelessness in the face of such hardship in a place steeped with injustice, there is yet a quality of redemption that I cannot deny as being remarkable. I just had a hard time reading it, and was not disappointed when having to set it aside frequently. I will read more of Ms. Ward’s work in the future.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,006 reviews36k followers
May 10, 2017
I listened to the audiobook of "Salvage the Bones", a couple of months ago. I was so engrossed, it was almost hard to distinguish one talent from the other: the narrators voice or the authors writing. Jesmyn Ward was a new author to me.
I remember I cringed at times - and thought the language was beautiful.

.....many other reviews came before me - excellent ones describing the plot and sharing about the characters. I read Michael's review which had me running to find this book on Netgalley. I didn't even know a new release was coming out.
His review is wonderful. I recommend reading his review- its terrific!

I wrote this review mostly in context - 'AS A WHOLE'...not many details about the characters and the story. However, this novel will stay with me a long time. Its wonderful. I like it even more than "Salvage the Bones". (and I liked that too!)

I enjoyed 'reading' Jesmyn's writing very much. ( no audiobook this time). Page after page -- there is wonderful prose.

I loved how the story begins.......
"I like to think I know what death is. I like to think it's something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I leave Mam sleep in her bed and my little sister Kayla sleep on a blanket on the floor, and I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that's how Pop walks".

Jesmyn is a magnificent writer, and storyteller. Although an easy storyline to follow itself - I spent extra time thinking about the individual characters. Visual pictures were solid in my brain.
Each one of characters were dealing with transition- change - suffering -and other losses.
Each character in this novel had to confront the curves life threw at them - be it illness - drugs - poverty - racial inequity - massive disappointments - fears - regret - abuse -
narcissistic illusional protection - and other realities every human being would prefer to avoid.

Morning breakfast anyone?
Cold goat for breakfast with gravy and rice .. was cooked in a pot that Pop tells Jojo...is leaking cancer into the food because the enamel on the inside is peeling off like paint. Isn't this the way you start your day? And greet your kids with news of their first morning meal? Yeah.... thought so!

Kidding aside-- about the breakfast...... there's a great deal of sadness in this novel
but WE FACE OUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS WITH GRACE..... because Jasmyn Ward is skilled in opening up our hearts and mind -- to take a deeper look at some very serious issues --without leaving us ( the readers) to bleed to death either. Jasmyn has crafted an important path to understanding more about ourselves - the world we live in -and the nature of reality ....a touch of spiritualistic mythology.

Thank You Scribner, Netgalley, and Jesmyn Ward... ( you have me wanting to read your other books)!!!
Profile Image for Fran.
640 reviews586 followers
February 11, 2017
Adult responsibility should not consume the life of a thirteen year old. Jojo's family lives in poverty along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Once Jojo had a mama (Leonie) who attended to him and watched TV with him. He stopped calling her mama after she started snorting crushed pills. His father, Michael, is jailed in Parchman farm, The Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Jojo has a dual role as surrogate parent to toddler sister Kayla and as future head of household. He is asked to help grandfather (Pop) slaughter a goat. Grandmother (Mam) is dying of cancer. Jojo simply has too much on his plate.

Upon Michael's impending release from Parchman, Leonie plans a road trip, with kids in tow, to pick him up. Jojo, however, has tried to erase the image of Leonie and Michael's fights. The memory persists and Jojo, with Kayla clinging to him, is an unwilling traveler.

Weaving through the story are ghosts from the past. When Leonie gets high, her dead brother Given appears, providing comfort. Jojo channels the ghost of Richie, a young boy who served time in Parchman with Pop when Pop was wrongly accused of harboring a fugitive. Will Pop tell Jojo the full story of Richie's prison experience and subsequent demise?

A multitude of underlying currents run through this tome. The principals deal with poverty, racial profiling, lack of parenting skills, drug abuse and the supernatural. "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward is a rich, distinctive contribution to American literature.

Thank you Scribner and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Sing, Unburied, Sing".
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
September 27, 2017

Profound, poetic, and at times painful to read, Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing is searing, truly a soaring literary achievement that I won't stop thinking about anytime soon.

Jojo is 13 years old, on the cusp of manhood but in some ways still very much a child, longing for the security and comfort of an easier time in his life. He and his younger sister Kayla (short for Michaela) have essentially been raised by their grandparents, since their mother Leonie is often absent, either physically or emotionally, as she "ain't got the mothering instinct," and their father Michael is in prison. Three-year-old Kayla often looks to Jojo for food, love, and nurturing, which often irritates Leonie when she is around.

Growing up a biracial child in Mississippi isn't easy, but Jojo's grandparents, Pop and Mam, have taught him compassion and love, as well as survival skills to weather the hard times both physical and emotional, and how to be a good man. But Mam is dying of cancer, and her illness seems to be eating away at Pop as well. Leonie is also having a difficult time dealing with her mother's illness, as she was always such a force in her life.

"Growing up out here in the country taught me things. Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants. Once a year or so, I see it in Pop, how he got leaner and leaner with age, the tendons in him standing out, harder and more rigid, every year. His Indian cheekbones severe. But since Mama got sick, I learned pain can do that, too. Can eat a person until there's nothing but bone and skin and a thin layer of blood left."

Given her choice, Leonie would rather be with Michael, just the two of them, although at times she wants her children to need and love her. But the fact that Leonie is black and Michael is white makes their relationship difficult where his family is concerned—his father has made it clear that she and her children are not welcome in their home. To combat these stresses, Leonie spends a lot of time getting high, which has its own drawbacks—she is haunted by visions of her dead brother, Given, who was killed in a hunting accident. She knows Given disapproves of her, and she wants him to go away, but she refuses to give up the drugs that bring on his presence.

When Leonie gets word that Michael is being released from the notorious Parchman penitentiary, she is determined that she and the children will greet him there, even if it means a road trip across the state. Accompanied by her coworker, Misty, the trip to Parchman is rockier than she imagined it would be, with Kayla getting sick and Misty insisting on a few detours to pick up some "sustenance." And even though she dreams that once she sees Michael he'll sweep her and the kids away to their own life, more often than not, Leonie wants to hit the kids for annoying her, and just wants them to be back with her parents. And the trip becomes ever more fraught with peril from there.

In addition to Given's spectral presence, the book is also haunted by the presence of Richie, a young boy Pop knew when he was a prisoner at Parchman years ago. Only Jojo can see and hear Richie, who wants to know how he met his end years ago, so he can finally be at rest.

There is a lot going on in this book, but Ward's narrative is utterly mesmerizing. I felt this pervasive sense of doom or danger while reading and kept hoping everything wasn't going to fall apart. It is testimony to Ward's skill as a storyteller that a book dealing with such complicated, heavy themes as racial identity, grief, violence, addiction, the responsibilities of parenthood, and the dark places our minds can go still generated suspense and flowed so beautifully.

The book does have its difficult moments, which may cause people anguish. Leonie's feelings toward her children saddened me, but you can see she is a much more complex character than you initially think. There are also some graphic descriptions of violence and animal butchery that may be hard for some to read. Others may not understand the mystical elements of the story—the ghosts, the spiritual powers that some of the characters have—and if those aren't elements you traditionally enjoy, you may not like this book as much.

Even though many Goodreads friends had raved about this book, I was hesitant, because I wasn't sure if it would be too much for me. I was surprised at how much I loved it and how quickly the story moved.

This is the first of Ward's books I've read and it won't be the last—this is an absolutely stellar achievement, and easily one of the best, and most unique, books I've read all year.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
703 reviews3,276 followers
March 8, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Heartbreak prevails, the past materializes in haunting forms, and Jesmyn Ward's prose sings in this brutal coming-of-age set in Mississippi.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
August 3, 2017

I almost always read just before going to sleep, and occasionally I wake up thinking about the characters, feeling like I have to get back to the book because I just have to know what's going to happen to them . This is what happened with this story. To me that's so telling about how Jesmyn Ward creates characters that are so real that you worry about them as if they were people you know, children that you want to be safe. That's just one of the strengths of her writing - the intimacy that we as readers get to share with these characters. It's a gritty, unbearably sad story of a Mississippi family. I'm not even going to touch on the plot. You can read the Goodreads description for that. I would prefer to try and convey how much I was impacted by this story. I can say that I loved Jojo, the thirteen year old son of a black woman and a white man. A boy who becomes a man, in spite of parental neglect and abuse because he has grandparents who care for him and who love him and his three year old sister so deeply. There are poignant moments when Pop tells Jojo stories - "He tells me stories. Stories about eating cattails after his daddy been out gathering them from the marsh. Stories about how his mama and her people used to collect Spanish moss to stuff their mattresses. Sometimes he'll tell me the same story three, even four times. Hearing him tell them makes me feel like his voice is a hand he's reached out to me... ". Then there are the moments when Jojo reaches out his hand to Kayla by telling her stories.

I loved his grandfather, Pop, and also Richie, the ghost of Pop's past who comes to Jojo and sees what we as readers see: "Riv hugs them even when he's not in the same room with them, even when he's not touching them. The boy, JoJo, and the girl, Kayla. Riv holds them close.... they go off to to Riv's garden, where they pick strawberries and blackberries and weed until the sun is high. They eat the berries from the bush. I expect to see a winged shadow over them, but there is nothing but this : the garden, green and sweet. Life-giving flowers, ushering forth sweetness from fruit."

To say this is an intense read is putting it mildly. Readers should know they will find drugs and violence and racism of the past and present and death and ghosts here. There will be times when the incompetent and senseless treatment of these children at the hands of their parents will make you sick. But there is also love and understanding and traces of hope because there are people who love them. This story not only spoke to me, it sang about home and heart and love that exists amid the heartbreak.

A monthly read along with two of my favorite book buddies , Diane and Esil. The quotes are from an advanced copy so may change in the finished book.)I received an advanced copy of this book from Scribner through NetGalley and Edelweiss.

Profile Image for Susanne.
1,159 reviews36.8k followers
August 31, 2017
4 Stars.

Beautiful, Lyrical and Poetic. Haunting and completely Heart-Wrenching. And quite honestly, a book that ripped me apart.

“Sing Unburied Sing” is a character driven novel about a poverty stricken family living in Mississippi, where race discrimination runs rampant. Jojo is a thirteen year old biracial boy who has taken care of his three year old sister Kayla, since her birth, even though live with their Mam and Pop. Mam has shown Jojo what love and kindness are, while Pop has taught Jojo everything he possible can: how to survive and be strong even during the toughest of times. And they know tough times. For JoJo and Kayla's mother Leonie is a drug addict and she “ain’t got the mothering instinct.” She’s not even a decent human being, let alone a kind loving parent.

Yet Jojo, her son, is one incredible young man despite all that and he has a spiritual side that allows him to see and hear things other people can’t. Kayla relies on Jojo for everything. She never asks for Leonie when she’s hungry, or sick. She asks for Jojo. And boy does it make Leonie mad. As for their dad, Michael? For one thing, he is about to be released from Parchman, the State Penitentiary and he's not the greatest dad either. He and Leonie are quite the pair. And Leonie is taking the kids on a road trip to pick him up. This journey is filled with trials and tribulations, in addition to visits from ghosts of the past, making things a little more interesting.

"Sing Unburied Sing" is completely heart wrenching novel. Jesmyn Ward's writing is breathtaking, lyrical, poignant and all consuming. It was however, so hard to read at times that it literally broke me into to pieces. I would, in fact, categorize it as one of the "most hard to read books" I have ever encountered (due to the storylines, not the writing) and because of the strong nature of it, would recommend it with caution.

This was a Traveling Sister Group Read for me. It included: Brenda, Norma, JanB and Lindsay. I wouldn't have gotten through this book without them. Thank you for your strength ladies, you rock!

Thank you to NetGalley, Scribner and Jesmyn Ward for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Published on NetGalley and Goodreads on 8.28.17.

*Will be published on Amazon on 9.5.17.
September 3, 2017
2.5 stars. This book simply wasn’t a good fit for me.

Magical realism and fantasy are not themes that I connect with or generally enjoy reading. I hadn’t realized those aspects were such a large part of this story and I found them confusing and highly distracting. I think this came down to me not being the target market for this book.

There were some unforgettable characters within this tragic and unsettling story. Pre-teenaged Jojo stole my heart as he took on the parental role to his toddler sister, Kayla. He accepted and stepped into the care-takers role for his baby sister with both feet – he was wise beyond his years and my hero throughout this sad and heart-breaking story. Jojo’s grandfather, Pop, was also a stand out character for me. He took on a parental and mentor role to Jojo as Jojo’s drug-addicted mother had no way of controlling her selfish tendencies in order to care for her children.

I found the storyline uninteresting and depressing. As heart-breaking as the story was, I felt no emotional investment or attachment whatsoever. In the end, reading this book felt like work to me rather than pleasure.

A big thank you to NetGalley, Scribner and Jesmyn Ward for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review!

To find this review along with our full Traveling Sister Read Review, please visit Norma and Brenda's fabulous blog at:

Profile Image for Debra .
2,287 reviews35k followers
January 22, 2021
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!!!!

Highly recommend.

I received a copy of this book from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
May 18, 2019
“It Ain’t Changed None”

Those old enough to remember the film Easy Rider will know the fate of its protagonists, played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. They dared bring their long hair and loose morals into The Deep South almost 50 years ago. They both end up dead, shot off their motorcycles by the local rednecks for being different. The point of the film? Although Fonda and Hopper are white folk - and this was the target audience - this is what black people experience on a daily basis in a society that looks to differences in order to justify itself.

The film was made and released during the long reign of George Wallace (and his wife) as governor of Alabama. He was a man proud of his apartheid views who did all he could to provoke the real rednecks on the ground to a new Civil War based on race. Who would have believed at the time that the grandchildren of those rednecks who supported him would be the ones to sustain the same culture of hate, racism, and provincial sectarianism, much less a President sympathetic to their cause, a half-century later?

It takes the voices of two people, a mother (Leonie) and young son (JoJo), and two spirits, one of the mother’s brother and the other of a teen aged convict, to tell this story of dystopia in today’s Mississippi. Leonie is a hapless victim of race, poverty and drugs. The mixed race JoJo is the adult to his incompetent mother, whom he rightly mistrusts; and sole caretaker for his baby sister, whom he protects. Spirit One is the drug-induced image of Leonie’s murdered brother, Given, known naturally as Given-not-Given in his ephemeral form, who haunts his sister in her moments of intoxication. Spirit Two is the ghost of young Richie, worked and beaten and killed at the Parchman State Prison Farm, a real and familiar place to black Mississippians. Richie is interested in JoJo as a way to get home, that is, to some final peace.

The spirits consolidate memory and collapse time. They know how hate and racial violence have a persistence and continuity: “Sometimes I think it done changed. And then I sleep and wake up, and it ain’t changed none... It’s like a snake that sheds its skin. The outside look different when the scales change, but the inside always the same,” says the ghost Richie. And referring to Parchman Prison: “Got a lot of men in there ain’t so friendly. Then and now. It’s full of wrong men. The kind of men that feel better if they do something bad to you. Like it eases something in them... Parchman was past, present, and future all at once?”

Leonie’s use of drugs has a therapeutic purpose - to see and feel her dead brother. All her other emotional attachments - to her children, to her parents, to her only friend - are stunted and frustrating. Only her relationship with her husband has significance, and that mostly destructive. Given’s murder at the hands of her white husband’s cousin is the likely cause of her emotional infirmity. Drugs return her to that time before violence. Ultimately, however, she loses even Given-not-Given when he accompanies their mother into a final restful death. At that point she also loses even the little of the cultural memory she had available through her mother. There is no future for her because there is no past. The therapy has failed, as it must.

Only JoJo has the innate mystical sensitivity and talent to see, hear and understand the spirit of Richie. Of this sort of lost soul there are in fact an uncountable number, the immaterial remains of those who have been wronged but for whom there is no justice. JoJo is their voice: “They perch like birds, but look as people. They speak with their eyes: He raped me and suffocated me until I died I put my hands up and he shot me eight times she locked me in the shed and starved me to death while I listened to my babies playing with her in the yard they came in my cell in the middle of the night and they hung me they found I could read and they dragged me out to the barn and gouged my eyes before they beat me still I was sick and he said I was an abomination and Jesus say suffer little children so let her go and he put me under the water and I couldn’t breathe.”

“‘There’s so many,’ Richie says. His voice is molasses slow. ‘So many of us,’ he says. ‘Hitting. The wrong keys. Wandering against. The song.’” And more, presumably, arrive everyday until the Song of Hatred is drowned out. This is why they sing.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
532 reviews58.5k followers
February 11, 2019
It's not you, it's me.

I couldn't get into this book. I wanted to love it, truly but I'm having a hard time reviewing it.

It's a beautifully written book about poverty, family, racism, hope and struggle.

Just... not for me.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,735 reviews14.1k followers
August 5, 2017
4.5 If you have read this author before, you pretty much know to expect a grittiness, a no holds barred reality, and that is exactly what happens in this novel. Poverty, racism, a belief in the other world to make things bearable, healing with herbs and incantations, drugs, and in this book spirits, ghosts. Mam and Pop are amazing characters who provide love and support to their two mixed race grandchildren, JoJo and Kayla. The children's parents Leone and Michael, both hooked on drugs, Michael in prison, are unable, unfit to care for their own children. The ill fated road trip undertaken was very hard to read, but provides us with a good understanding of exactly how unfit they are, where their priorities lie.

These characters carry the ghosts of past injustices, things seen, experienced, especially River, who is Pop, a horrific event he had to carry out when he was in prison as a young man. The marks of injustice, are made real by the appearance of actual ghosts, spirits who cannot rest, who only want to return home. Leonie sees the ghost of her murdered brother, and JoJo and Kayla are able to see and communicate with them all.

While this tale is often grim and sad, it is also a tale about love. Without the love shown by Mam and Pop, JoJo would not be the special person he turns out to be, and Kayla would be without the heartwarming love her brother bestows, a beautiful closeness between siblings. Leonie loves her children, but is incapable of putting them first, turning to drugs to eleviate her sadness. The ghosts want to feel love, to find a home. Reading this author is to become immersed in the reality she is creating, but it is a harsh reality and as special as it is to read one of her novels, I am always relieved to return to my own life. Maybe a little more compassionate, a little more understanding, a little more appreciative of what I do have. Her books definitely leave an indelible mark.

Another wonderful buddy read with Angela and Esil. Love discussing our thoughts as we are reading.

ARC from publisher
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews660 followers
December 14, 2017
Rating 4.5

What a powerful, beautiful, heartbreaking story that details love, hate, sadness, death, drugs, poverty, and racism. There is so much packed into this one and my thoughts are still with these characters. I thought this was a perfect example of Southern Gothic literature. Defined as follows:

Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may or may not dabble in hoodoo, ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

I think that about sums it up. But on the story....Leonie is black and "mother" (using that word loosely here) to two bi-racial children, JoJo and Kayla. She doesn't love them, she loves getting high. But what she lives and breaths for is her boyfriend, and father to her children, Michael, who is white. She drags her children from the home they live in with Leonie's parents - Mam and Pop, to go get Michael as he is released from prison. You learn so much of each of these characters and how they are conflicted. My heart cried for JoJo, a 13 year old boy who takes care of his very young sister Kayla, trying to become a man, learning from Pop....but conflicted as he sees spirits. Pop, another conflicted soul who struggles every day. This one has ghosts weaved into the story with Mam and her daughter and her children able to see and sometimes hear these conflicted souls looking for something. Oh there is so much more to this one. I don't want to give much away, but I'll say...just read it.

So after all that, why a 4.5. The audio narration. I got this one from NetGalley and started it sometime ago but was a bit taken back by how it opened...with the goat. So I set it aside for awhile and saw who the narrators were and *had* to grab the audio. I rotated back and forth between print and audio. But please narrators....DO NOT WHISPER in audios! It does nothing but aggravate the person listening.

Overall, I'm so glad I finally picked this one up. It's a rough story to read but so worth it in the end. I have the authors other books and can't wait to read these also. Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for the early release of the book. Just sorry it took me so long to actually get to it.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,021 reviews2,526 followers
August 24, 2017
I've had Salvage The Bones on my TBR list for ages and somehow have never gotten to it. So, I was pleased to get an advance copy of Sing, Unburied, Sing and finally get to read something by Jesamyn Ward. Wow, she can write! Her descriptions take you right to the time and place. It's like the characters are real people, they are that three dimensional. It's a very sad book. A thirteen year old biracial boy is forced to grow up before his time. And unfortunately, it's a story that takes place all too frequently. His mother is a drug addict and his grandparents are basically raising him and his three year old sister. But his grandmother is dying of cancer. And his father is coming out of a five year stint of prison.

The book alternates between JoJo’s, Leonie’s and later Richie’s perspectives. Leonie is a selfish b****. If we're supposed to feel sympathy for her, as an addict, mine left when she bought a Coke, refused to give JoJo any money for one for himself and couldn't even share hers with him. Richie is a ghost and I struggle with ghosts in stories. He does help advance the story of Pop’s time in Parchman but I wish there could have been another way. I did find Pop’s time in Parchman to be one of the more interesting storylines.

This isn't a fast paced book. It's more about the characters, the poverty and the racism. It's about what makes a family a family and how blood isn't necessarily the most important bond.

My thanks to netgalley and Scribner for an advance copy of this book.

Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,116 followers
August 3, 2017
I would give this book a 4.5 rating.
Beautifully written, haunting, very sad. In this story we have biracial children being taken care of by the grandparents, a drug addicted mother, their father in prison, a grandmother who is dying, and a loving grandfather. Oh, and we also have ghosts, yes, quite a few ghosts.
Jojo one of a few different narrators of this book is just bogged down with the responsibility of his little sister Kayla..he is the only constant for her, he and his grandfather really pulled at my heartstrings!
I plan to read more by this author, this is the first of hers that I've read.

Many thanks to Scribner for the ARC.
Profile Image for Erin .
1,231 reviews1,142 followers
May 1, 2018
I don't know if I even feel up to the task of writing a review for this amazing novel. I started this one yesterday and I could not put this book down.

Sing Unburied Sing is stunning, gripping, haunting, beautifully written, compelling and filled with complex characters. I'm usually put off by magical realism in books but I think it only added to the poetic and searing storytelling.

Highly Recommended!

Read for the African-American Historical Fiction Bookclub.

2018 Badass Books Challenge: A book by an author you've never read.

Around the year in 52 books: A book from the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards
Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,619 followers
January 16, 2018
Magical realism collides with southern gothic reality

There's been a hum of excitement on Goodreads regarding this book, which has won a throng of awards. Too impatient to wait for my pathetic lil french/english local library to get it - I just bought my own copy.

High expectations are dangerous, but not for me, in this particular case. Jesmyn Ward delivers in this book a raw, impossibly real cast of characters, with a story that is simple (junkie mom packs her kids in the car to pick up loser dad from prison) but incredibly compelling. The southern gothic atmosphere is established in the first bloody chapter with a nauseating goat slaying - and the wince-inducing pain continues from there.

The strength of this book lies in the incredibly well drawn characters of Jojo (13 but forced to grow up way too soon), Leonie (despicable, failing but somehow human) and Pop (the always upright, shining beacon of hope in this dangerous and bleak story). I love it when the writing and the story are equally strong, when I can't read fast enough to see what happens next, but I'm purposefully slowing down to absorb the atmosphere, the moments and the subtext that has been created by a truly inspired and talented mind.

The realism in this story hits you with the pungent perfume of stomach acid (literally - there's a LOT of vomit in this story, maybe more than I needed). Ms. Ward shines her light on the harsh reality of child abuse, drug addiction, poverty, and racial violence. It stung my eyes on several occasions, choked me with the scarring injustice.

Then, Ward interweaves another element - a ghostly one - into the mix. Ghosts that sit on the floor of the back seat of a car. Ghosts that show up after a hit of meth, mouthing words. Having loved Lincoln in the Bardo with its spiritual cast of characters, I didn't anticipate this to be an issue for me. And, I suppose, for the most part, it wasn't. I understand and applaud what Ward is doing here with her ghosts - giving voice to those who have no voice, whose voices were taken away but whose atrocities still burn and whose souls still have not found peace.

I enjoyed how certain characters had "the shining", could understand what animals are saying, and could see and interact with the dead. But I found the ending to be an over-the-top, overly dramatic, spiritual fireworks show. It pulled me out of the brilliantly rendered gothic reality that I found so addictive. Something about it wasn't entirely convincing to me, even though I wanted it to be.

Still, so much to love here, and I'm in awe of what this author accomplished in this memorable and powerful book.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
April 20, 2020
A snapshot of a family in crisis, Sing, Unburied, Sing reckons with the legacy of racial injustice in the Deep South. The novel follows thirteen-year-old Jojo and his mother Leonie as the pair drives north to retrieve Jojo's white father from prison upon his release. On the road, Leonie struggles to care for Jojo's younger sister, Kayla, forcing Jojo to help care for her; Jojo resents his mother's inability to parent her children, as well as her addiction to cocaine. Both mother and son also are haunted by ghosts, specters of young Black men killed in acts of racialized violence. Alternating between the pair's perspectives, Ward considers what it means to remember the forgotten and the unburied. While the writing in the novel is gripping, I found the voices of Jojo and Leonie to sound very similar, and the protagonists felt a bit static, especially for such a character-driven novel.
Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.3k followers
July 21, 2020
I have waited almost a month, and I still don't magically have a review of this book ready to go.

I just don't know!!!

Honestly, while I can tell you that this book is in fact Remarkable and Unique and One of a Kind and every other positive adjective all the blurbs and reviews and write-ups have claimed it to be, it wasn't a perfect read for me. It dragged in the middle, if I'm honest. I just wasn't consistently into it. (This is what happens to me ALWAYS with multiple perspectives. I can basically guarantee I'm not going to care about all of them.)

But this did have what was, for me, a perfect ending. And anytime a book has a perfect ending I just want to forget everything that came before it and shower it with stars and kisses and love and never review it.

But instead I sacrifice for my good name as a book reviewer, and I actually think or whatever.

(Yes, this is what me thinking looks like. No, you do not want to see the alternative.)

Bottom line: Very good, but not perfect (except for the perfect part).


i am spending this month reading books by Black authors. please join me!

book 1: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
book 2: Homegoing
book 3: Let's Talk about Love
book 4: Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race
book 5: The Sellout
book 6: Queenie
book 7: Red at the Bone
book 8: The Weight of the Stars
book 9: An American Marriage
book 10: Dear Ijeawaele
book 11: Sing, Unburied, Sing
August 30, 2017
Traveling Sister Group Read with Norma, Lindsay, Susanne and JanB.

Sing, Unburied, Sing was a Traveling Sister Group read and we had some mixed feelings on this one and it brought out a lot of different emotions from us. We had some interesting group discussions with this one. Some of us really connected to the story on a very emotional level and some of us could not connect at all to the story. For me, I struggled with connecting with the story.

Jesmyn Ward takes on some sad and ugly truths here and the writing is beautifully well written, however, I exhausted myself searching for a deeper meaning and trying to figure out some insight from the voices of the dead. What insight and emotion I did find was lost in the magical, supernatural and ghost part of the story and that just didn’t work for me.

Even though Sing, Unburied, Sing didn't really work for me I did appreciate the strong well-written story that took us on a journey through Mississippi's past and present giving us a look into the sadness, poverty, and life of a Mississippi family.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster Canada / Scribner and Jesmyn Ward for the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy.

Norma and my reviews and all of our Traveling Sisters Reviews can be found on Norma’s and my sister blog:
March 11, 2020
Sing, Unburied, Sing is an exposure of aspects in American society that are uncomfortable to acknowledge but are told with a pointed, honest and heartfelt sense of purpose. Jesmyn Ward airs these issues in an unabbreviated depiction of poverty, drug abuse, and racial discrimination in the USA’s Southern States.

The narration is told alternately through the eyes of 13-year-old JoJo and his 31-year-old mother Leonie in vivid detail and sense of surroundings. JoJo is the son of a black mother and white father, Michael, and they have very much experienced racial abuse and discrimination. Leonie, JoJo and her daughter Kayla, live with her mother (Mam) and father (Pop) while Michael is in prison. Pop has really been JoJo’s father figure but is haunted by past events and is currently nursing his dying wife with cancer.

The first two-thirds of the story are quite gloomy and depressing, while Leonie, JoJo, Kayla, and friend Misty, take a road trip to collect Michael as he gets released from Parchman Prison, Mississippi. A very strange character, Richie, joins Michael and the family on the way home. Part of the narration is then taken up by Richie and his probing dialogue with JoJo indicates he has unfinished business.

JoJo is a very unique, sensitive and empathetic young man who deals with his sick sister with such care and attention it incites jealousy with Leonie. The delirious Kayla only wants to be comforted by JoJo.

The underlining theme in the novel is one of racial discrimination and abuse and it touches all the characters. What becomes apparent in this poetic incision into the history of racial crimes, is that there are unfinished or untold stories that need closure. The horrors of these crimes are unfathomable and the lives they touched need closure.

The song needs to be sung! Sing Unburied Sing!

I felt the book lacked pace and was quite downtrodden for the first half. In complete contrast, the second half of the book continuously ramped up, again and again, until we have an extremely powerful and captivating end to the story. The pressure to narrate a story with a history of such horrors and an obligation to maintain dignity for those that suffered is superbly managed by Jesmyn Ward in this book.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing UK and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
November 17, 2019
ETA: 11/2019 - Rereading this for an at-work Jesmyn Ward book club. She's coming to campus in February so we're meeting monthly to discuss a different work, hosted by the library and English department. It's amazing how much of it is still so vivid in my mind.

Original review from 2017:

I finished this novel a week ago and haven't been able to write about it. It is so good, I just don't know how to do it justice. If I list the ingredients of the novel for you, the characters and events, it wouldn't start to explain how it feels to read it. I'll do my best.

I haven't read Jesmyn Ward before now. I am hyper aware of her, because her 2011 novel, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award. Still I didn't read it. I think I had it in my head that it was violent and gritty and like the same way I avoided Steinbeck for the same reasons, I was missing out. And the way this novel starts made me think first of Steinbeck, rather than Faulkner and Morrison who most people mention, probably because I've read a lot more of him lately. But there is a scene with a goat between Pop and Jojo, who we later discover are grandfather and grandson.

The novel is set in rural Mississippi, in poverty, and a situation where the grandparents have been the primary caretakers of their grandchildren. Their daughter (Leonie) is not a good mother for various reasons, and the (white) father is currently in jail, but since his family did not approve of his involvement with Leonie anyway, he was not a strong presence for the children. But now, Mam has cancer, and Pop has to shift his focus to her care.

There is more going on that is unveiled as the story progresses. Mam has the knowledge of the old country, herbal remedies, midwifery, and the ability to speak to the dead. She thinks her children should learn these things and has tried to teach Leonie. There is another connection between Leonie's brother and her baby-daddy's family.

All of this is going on and the author shifts between characters, bringing the reader into each person's experience and focus, and this is incredibly effective. The elements of the fantastical fit into the gritty, real environment in ways I would not have expected. Highly, highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access through NetGalley and Edelweiss (I accidentally requested it twice.) The book comes out 5 September 2017.
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,574 reviews5,904 followers
October 24, 2017
This story is told from several different viewpoints but the most resounding voice was a young boy named Jojo. Jojo lives with his Mam and Pop and younger sister Kayla. His mom Leonie pops in and out of the house when she isn't drugged out of her mind. Jojo looks at life through an old man's eyes even though he hasn't even reached puberty. (Not literally for you trolls)..but this kid has seen more than most of us even have nightmares about.
His father is about to be released from the state penitentiary so Leonie loads up the kids along with a friend to go pick him up. Normally I love road trip stories but in this one I knew I didn't really want to tag along but this book had me completely wrapped around it's finger by then and I couldn't stop. So road trip it was.

I cannot start to describe the writing for this book. It was powerful and completely swept me into the story. You can see Jojo's world come to life. The author shows racism and hopelessness in a way that made me ashamed of the way the world was and can still be. Not everyone is cut out to be a parent and not everyone can even manage to be a decent human.

I will admit to getting a bit side tracked when the book added in some woo-woo stuff.

But the author slapped it around and made it all tie right back into the story.

This was my first Jesmyn Ward book (not my last) and she reminds me strongly of Toni Morrison except for the fact that I actually like Ward's writing.

Booksource: Netgalley in exchange for review.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,136 followers
August 12, 2017
OH BOY, what to say - Emotional....Sad....Disheartening....Infuriating....AND a Great Read!

SING UNBURIED SING is a multi-layered, beautifully written story about a dysfunctional family who live on a farm near the Gulf of Mississippi.

THE CHARACTERS are very well-defined and unforgettable....like the self-absorbed drug addicted Leonie who "ain't got the mothering instinct"....like Michael the father....who "ain't" much better....undependable....even when he's not in prison.

POOR MAM, she's bedridden; POP watches over her and his two bi-racial grandchildren, but OMG! lives with a haunting and heartbreaking memory.

AND THEN there's JoJo....only thirteen, but clearly stands out among ALL the rest giving baby sister Kayla love and protection from neglect, stupidity and evil.

AND...OH. MY. GOSH. The road trip to the state penitentiary!

MANY of the incidents in this novel are pretty tough to take. (including one with a farm animal) There are also ghosts about and visions from the past, but thankfully, in the spirited end, there is hope and singing from a special little voice.

MANY THANKS to NetGalley and Scribner for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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