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By Jesmyn Ward
272 pages; Bloomsbury USA

Because Ward's loving remembrance broke our hearts.

In Men We Reaped, a devastating memoir by the National Book Award–winning author of Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward chronicles the lives and deaths of five men she grew up with in a small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Her memories of the friends, cousin and brother she lost are ordinary—we see them growing from curious boys to teenage flirts, looking for work and partying, leaving Mississippi and returning again—but her love for them is powerfully visceral, as "large and fierce and elemental as the forest fires that sometimes swept through the woods behind [her] house." It makes the grief all the more palpable when we watch them swallowed by drugs, gun violence, car accidents and suicide. Ward is a vivid, urgent writer, and here she is bearing witness to poverty and racism, the inequality that plagues her community and so many others like it. "There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives," she writes, and her story shines a light on this darkness, reminding us we will never be able to lift it if we do not at least look. — Ruth Baron