Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing: I will not sink her

I received a copy of Jesmyn Ward's latest book, Sing, Unburied, Sing back in March in exchange for an honest review. Normally I try to write these reviews right after finishing the book so my thoughts are still fresh. However, this book came with the request not to publish anything until around the time the book would be released, September 5th. And sure, I could have written the review right away and saved it (that would have been the responsible thing after all). So naturally I did no such thing and now it's August and I'm working on remembering the book.

Before I go back and skim through to get details and whatnot, I want to share my feelings as I remember them these 5 months later: this book was fantastic. It wasn't what I expected, but then again I didn't entirely know what to expect. I hadn't read anything of hers before, though she's been on my radar. But the book was touching and raw and haunting and involved multiple narrators which is one of my favorite things.

Our first narrator is Jojo, who lives with his grandparents, Pop and Mam, and his younger sister Kayla. His father, Michael, is in jail and his mother, Leonie, is a drug addict who left her kids with her parents, flitting in and out of their lives.

Jojo adores his grandfather and helps with much of the care and raising of his sister. His grandmother is dying from cancer and Jojo, only thirteen, has to grow up quickly.

Jojo's mother Leonie is the second voice we hear. It'd be easy to paint her with no redeeming values, abandoning her kids and deeply jealous of Jojo's relationship with Kayla. Seeing her perspective doesn't mean she's forgiven for the things she does, but it helps explain.

Leonie comes back into their lives when Michael is about to be released from prison, Parchman's. Despite her parents best wishes, she wants to take Jojo and Kayla to the prison to pick him up. The trip will take a couple days but she thinks it's best for them to be there to see their father, especially Kayla. Michael went to prison before she was born.

There are few other characters. Michael's parents. Michael is white, Leonie black, and his parents vehemently disapprove of the relationship and the children that have come of it. Leonie's friend who makes the trip to Parchman's with them. A few others.

There are also ghosts. Leonie's brother comes to her when she's high, both a blessing and a curse for Leonie. There's also the spirit of  Richie, someone Pop knew from his own time at Parchman's.

This multi-generational story touches on race, family, love, poverty, the ghosts from our past all set in rural Mississippi. Ward's writing is superb, touching and lyrical. One of the best books I read this year and definitely an author I will be reading more from.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 2821

Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing. Scribner, 2017. NetGalley