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Sing, Unburied, Sing
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Group Reads - Fiction > Group Fiction Read June 2018- Sing, Unburied, Sing

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Our group read for June 2018 is Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

Please discuss the book here over the next few weeks!

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I read this a few weeks ago. I liked it but I didn't love it and felt a bit 'flat' throughout. I did think it was well written and I thought the characters of Leonie and JoJo were very realistic and well drawn.

I'm looking forward to hearing other peoples thoughts and will wait to hear from other people as I know many have loved it

message 3: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12306 comments Mod
I would like to try and read this but would like to catch up with the books I've missed first.

Pink I'm gonna make this the next new book I pick up. I just need to finish my current reads that are taking longer than I'd like!

message 5: by Joan (new) - added it

Joan I listened to the audiobook book and I recommend it very strongly. The four readers do an excellent job and I think help the listener identify more with the characters- it humanizes them.
I’m looking forward to the discussion.

Raul Bimenyimana | 739 comments I started reading and it's good so far.

Raul Bimenyimana | 739 comments Finished reading, it was a great read.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Has anybody else finished this?

What did you like about it Raul?

I've struggled to articulate how I feel about the book. I think it is an important story and I thought it was well written but I just didn't love it! I didn't really think the ghost elements added anything to the story which I think was powerful without them

Raul Bimenyimana | 739 comments Heather wrote: "Has anybody else finished this?

What did you like about it Raul?

I've struggled to articulate how I feel about the book. I think it is an important story and I thought it was well written but I j..."

I thought it was well written as well. I liked that we got more than once voice for the story especially with Leonie who I think I would have loathed had I not seen her struggles from her side. I thought the ghost of Given wasn't necessary, but Richie's ghost helped link together the story. I also felt the presence of the ghosts were symbolic of the injustices they faced, that they never really went away. I really liked it!

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I also thought it was important to get Leonie's side although she was an incredibly frustrating character. I do enjoy a flawed narrator

message 11: by Joan (last edited Jun 25, 2018 07:06PM) (new) - added it

Joan I read this with another G.R. Group a few months ago - we had a great discussion and I loved the book
but I was frustrated that no one acknowledged the horrendous crimes that seemed to be the core - the murder of Given & the cover-up by the “powers that be” as a hunting accident.

Leonie at a very young age list her brother, had her faith in justice stripped from her and learned that her parents were powerless to fight the wrong.
It seemed that Michael was distressed by what his cousin, uncles and father had done - I wondered if that motivated him to befriend Leonie in high school.

Pap & Mam had faced such injustice before and seemed to try to just move on. Leonie & Michael tried to escape through drug use.

For me the ghosts of Richie & Given were linked and central to the story.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

That’s an interesting point, Joan. I had almost forgotten that aspect of the book. It really wasn’t for me...

Leonie has obviously been through a lot of tragedy but does that justify her lack of care towards JoJo and Kayla?

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I have copied this author bio from a website called litlovers. No spoilers

Author Bio
• Birth—1977
• Where—DeLisle, Mississippi, USA
• Education—B.A., Stanford University; M.F.A., University of Michigan
• Awards—2 National Book Awards (others below)
• Currently—lives in Mississippi; commutes to Mobile, Alabama

Jesmyn Ward is an American novelist and two-time National Book Award winner for fiction. Salvage the Bones won in 2011 (it also won a 2012 Alex Award), and Sing, the Unburied, Sing, won in 2017. Her other two books include her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds (2008) and a memoir, The Men We Reaped (2013), about the deaths of her brother and other young male friends.

Early years
Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, a small rural community in Mississippi. She developed a love-hate relationship with her hometown after having been bullied at public school by black classmates and, subsequently, by white students while attending a private school paid for by her mother’s employer.

Ward received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University, choosing to become a writer upon graduation in order to honor the memory of her younger brother killed by a drunk driver earlier that year. Ward went on to earn an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan in 2005. At U of M she won five Hopwood Awards for essays, drama, and fiction.

Shortly afterwards, she and her family became victims of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. With their house in De Lisle flooding rapidly, the Ward family set out in their car to get to a local church, but ended up stranded in a field full of tractors. When the white owners of the land eventually checked on their possessions, they refused to invite the Wards into their home, claiming they were overcrowded. Tired and traumatized, the refugees were eventually given shelter by another white family down the road.

Ward went on to work at the University of New Orleans, where her daily commute took her through neighborhoods ravaged by the hurricane. Empathizing with the struggle of the survivors and coming to terms with her own experience during the storm, Ward was unable to write creatively for three years—the time it took her to find a publisher for her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds.

In 2008 she returned to Stanford as a Stegner Fellow—one of the most prestigious awards available to emerging American writers.

I think this helps with understanding some of the choices in the book

Website URL:

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

There are also some interesting discussion questions. I have selected a few.

Discussion Questions
1. The novel begins with Jojo’s thoughts, "I like to think I know what death is" and "I want Pop to know I can get bloody" (page 1). How do these thoughts set the stage for Jojo’s birthday and what follows?

2. How does Given’s death shape Leonie, Pop, and Mam? How does it change how they relate to each other?

3. Why does Given begin appearing to Leonie after Michael goes to jail, whenever she gets high? Why doesn’t Leonie tell anyone about seeing Given?

4. Leonie says from the first moment she saw Michael, he "saw me.… Saw the walking wound I was and came to be my balm" (page 54). Discuss how guilt, desire, taboo, defiance, and grief are at work in Michael and Leonie’s connection to each other.

5. Why can Pop only tell Richie’s story to Jojo in pieces (page 70)? What do you think Pop wants or needs Jojo to understand?

6. Why is Jojo convinced that "Leonie kill things" (page 108)? Why are Leonie and Jojo always in conflict, especially concerning how to take care of Kayla?

7. When Richie joins Jojo at Parchman, is it a surprise? Why is Richie tied to Parchman? And to River?

8. When Mam insists that Leonie help her die, to "Let me leave with something of myself" (page 216), what makes Leonie hesitate? Why does she wish for Given to be there in that moment?

9. Kayla is central to the final scene of the novel, with the "tree of ghosts." Jojo describes her: "Her eyes Michael’s, her nose Leonie’s, the set of her shoulders Pop’s, and the way she looks upward, like she is measuring the tree, all Mam. But something about the way she stands, the way she takes all the pieces of everybody and holds them together, is all her. Kayla" (page 284). How is it fitting that Kayla closes the story, telling the ghosts to "Go home" and singing to them and to Jojo?

(Questions issued by the publisher-

message 15: by Raul (last edited Jun 26, 2018 11:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Raul Bimenyimana | 739 comments Heather wrote: "That’s an interesting point, Joan. I had almost forgotten that aspect of the book. It really wasn’t for me...

Leonie has obviously been through a lot of tragedy but does that justify her lack of ..."

There are no justifiable reasons for Leonie's abuse towards her children. I think however that Leonie never found a safe and non-destructive way to confront her grief and loss, so she inflicts pain on her children through verbal and physical abuse and neglect. I think her substance abuse is a way of escapism too. She's a very flawed character but I'm happy we were shown why.

message 16: by Pink (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pink I finished the book today and quite enjoyed it, but also found it lacking. The writing was okay and the pace of the story kept me reading, but I'd probably have liked it fleshed out some more. I thought the story with the ghosts was interesting, but didn't really lead anywhere. I probably enjoyed the dynamics of the main characters more, but time was taken away from them to focus on the ghost story. I think it was difficult to fit both of these stories into such a short book.

Like others have mentioned I appreciated having Leonie's viewpoint. We got to understand her a little more and see that she loved her children, but she'd lost them already, with her inability to be their mother and her constant anger. She was difficult to sympathise with, as she made continuous bad decisions, but I think these were shaped by losing her brother. Do you think that she'd have ended up with Michael if Given were still alive?

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Her anger led her to drugs which led her to poor decisions and being a poor mother. There was love there but she was never able to put the children first.

I think Given’s death shaped her. It gave her the anger which ruined her life. I think she had it in her to be a good mum, as shown by the way she was towards her own mother at the end.

It’s interesting to see the contrast though. Pop and Mam lost their son but they still held the family together. Was there less anger from them because they were older or did they realise anger wouldn’t help?

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

I can’t help but really think of the similarities between Given and Ward’s own brothers death.

Perhaps it was the underhand racist cover up that led Leonie to have so much anger as opposed to the death itself

message 19: by Joan (new) - added it

Joan I think Mam and Pap had grown up battered by racism so the murder of Given was just more of the same - folks their age would have heard first-hand reminiscences of lynchings from their parents. They would have been children in the 1960’s, I think, - a time when the battle against racism was pretty ugly in the US.A.

I don’t think Given’s murder excuses Leonie’s neglect of her children. However, I don’t think the characters and the story can be understood without acknowledging the impact of that crime and the cover up. It haunts everyone in the book.
But it is hard and upsetting to accept that such things could happen in the 21st century.

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