BOOK REVIEW: Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Format: Paperback 
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Publisher: Schribner
305 pages
Buy: Kindle  | Audiobook 


Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.


Lyrical, beautiful and moving. This is a character study of family and the history that haunts them. Set in rural Mississippi Jojo and his family live together with his grandparents.  His grandfather is haunted by his past at Parchman - a farm prison.  Jojo is always asking his Pop to tell him about his time there but when he gets to a certain point he always stops.  Jojo's father is at Parchman but nows its a prison and he is being released.  His mother Leonie packs him and his sister into the car and head off to pick him up. 

Jojo's parents are addicts and not very parental more wrapped up in themselves than their children.  Mam is dying of cancer and Pop works the land, caring for his animals and keeping the family going.  Jojo's father is white, and his parents don't know Jojo or his sister Kayla clinging to their racists roots so they live with his mom, Leonie family. 

Jojo often feels like he can speak to the animals and his Mam was a healer before she got sick, she often made the tinctures and gave out herbs to the locals but she never had what is referred to as the sight.  When Jojo and his mother reach Parchman they not only pick up his father but also a ghost from Pops past that is desperate for peace.  

This is a book that deals with race, poverty, addiction, and how the past often holds up back or can destroy us from the inside.  Its beautifully written, almost poetic in many places.  You find yourself swept up in the sadness, the desperation and the strength of these people.  This is not what I would call a feel good book but one that makes you think, makes you feel and lingers in the back of your head.  

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