Jesmyn Ward, author the National Book Award–winning, Hurricane Katrina–inspired novel Salvage the Bones
and the memoir Men We Reaped,
now returns to the Gulf Coast with a tour de force, Sing, Unburied, Sing
. In this road novel like no other, Leonie, the drug-addicted mother of 13-year-old Jojo and 3-year-old Kayla, heads out with her kids and a friend to pick up the children’s father, who’s just been released from jail. The presence in the car of both the living and the dead—ghosts and haints abound—makes for an unexpected ride, by turns suspenseful, somber, revelatory. Along the way, Jojo, one of the novel’s three powerful narrators, has his first daunting encounter with the police. Meanwhile, back at home, Leonie’s dying mother tries to hang on until everyone returns so she can reconnect her daughter with the family’s ancestral spirits.
Ward is an attentive and precise writer who dazzles with natural and supernatural observations and lyrical details. On his grandfather’s gift for spinning yarns, Jojo reflects, “Hearing him tell them makes me feel like his voice is a hand he’s reached out to me, like he’s rubbing my back.” Ward’s narrative has a similar effect: It not only rubs your back, but also prickles the hairs on the nape of your neck. With Sing, Unburied, Sing, she continues telling tales we need to hear with rare clarity and power—stories of a world that “gives a little luck to the small, that sometimes shows a little mercy.”