Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Book: Sing, Unburied, SIng by Jesmyn Ward

Published September 2017 by Scribner|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award–winner Jesmyn Ward.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

I liked Sing, Unburied, Sing!  If you like Toni Morrison, this is the book for you, because Sing, Unburied, Sing is very much a story Toni Morrison would write.

I did find parts of the book confusing- notably with Richie and with Given.  It didn’t make a lot of sense, and while it didn’t feel completely out of place, it did take me out of what was going on.  It was jarring to go into their stories, and it’s integration into the book could have been better.  It is interesting, though, and Jojo’s family clearly has their demons (and ghosts), but the way it’s done in this book didn’t work for me.

I did struggle to get through this book, and I felt like I had to really work at getting through this book.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for Sing, Unburied, Sing, since I had a hard time paying attention to what was going on.  But I do think part of it is the book.  You’re jumping around between past and present and different narrators, and it was hard for me to connect with any one person or thing that was going on.  It made things seem more convoluted than they really were.

It did take away from Jojo’s story and even Leonie’s story.  I can’t imagine having one parent in prison, and one who’s addicted to drugs and not around a lot.  He did have his grandparents, who did everything they could to make sure that he and his sister were okay, and in a loving home.  I can relate to growing up and being raised by your grandparents, but I really wanted more with them and Jojo.

The book certainly sounded beautiful, and while I wasn’t too interested in the story, there is something about the way that she writes.  Basically, the way I feel about Sing, Unburied, Sing is the same way I feel about every Toni Morrison book I’ve read- not super interested in the story, but way more fascinated and in love with the writing.  Morrison is much more…minimal…when it comes to writing, as opposed to Jesmyn Ward, but maybe I’ll give this book another read one day.  And I might give her other books a try as well, but I’m not too sure about that.

3 stars.  I liked but I didn’t love it.  The magical realism/supernatural elements took me out of the story, but the writing is beautiful, which is why Sing, Unburied, Sing isn’t getting a lower rating.  I can see why people love it, but it’s just not for me.


ARC Book Review: Black, White, Other And A Girl Named Mister

black-white-otherBook #1: Black, White, Other by Joan Steinau Lester

Published January 2017 by Blink|225 pages

Where I Got It: I received this book as an e-arc from in exchange for a fair and honest review

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: Identity Crisis.  

As a biracial teen, Nina is accustomed to a life of varied hues—mocha-colored skin, ringed brown hair streaked with red, a darker brother, a black father, a white mother. When her parents decide to divorce, the rainbow of Nina’s existence is reduced to a much starker reality. Shifting definitions and relationships are playing out all around her, and new boxes and lines seem to be getting drawn every day.

Between the fractures within her family and the racial tensions splintering her hometown, Nina feels caught in perpetual battle. Feeling stranded in the nowhere land between racial boundaries, and struggling for personal independence and identity, Nina turns to the story of her great-great-grandmother’s escape from slavery. Is there direction in the tale of her ancestor? Can Nina build her own compass when landmarks from her childhood stop guiding the way?

Rating/Review: 2 stars.  It was okay for me, and I wanted to like it, but I had a hard time with it.  I found myself skimming through the part where she’s reading about her relative.  I liked the present-day story a little bit more, and the message was really obvious- but it’s also really important.  She really does struggle to fit in, and you see how much things change her and how she feels caught in the middle on so many different levels.  I did really like seeing the relationship with one of her friends and her reaction to Nina hanging out with other people.  I think it’s something we can all relate to, feeling like we don’t fit in, but I feel like I understand Nina a little better.

a-girl-named-mister-coverBook #2: A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes

Published January 2017 by Blink|233 pages

Where I Got It: I received an e-ARC from in exchange for a fair and honest review

What It’s About: Nikki Grimes, a bestselling author known for titles such as Dark Sons, Barak Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, and Voices of Christmas has written a gripping book from the perspective of a girl named Mister (Mary Rudine) who finds herself momentarily distracted from her faith commitment to purity by a handsome boy named Trey. After one night of weakness, Mister finds her entire life has changed, even if she can’t yet accept all the changes occurring within her are real. When the emotional scars of losing her innocence are more lasting than she imagined, Mister turns to a book of her mother’s, which contains poems from Mary’s perspective. As both Mister and Mary’s voices play out in the story, a full and meaningful portrait of Christian faith, trust, and forgiveness emerges, along with the truth that God can use even the most unplanned events in our lives for his greater glory.

Rating & Review: 2 stars.  This one was okay for me.  It was a quick read, which I think is because the entire book is told in verse.  It was okay, but sometimes it felt like things were broken up to give the appearance of poetry, because there were times where it didn’t feel like I was reading poetry.  Then again, I don’t read a lot of novels told in verse, so maybe unfamiliarity is where my problem lies.  There is a whole diary feel to the book that didn’t quite work for me.  The comparison to Mary, Jesus’ mother, did not work for me at all, and I felt like the comparison was trying to compare apples and oranges.  I’m also not sure what the book was going for abstinence, maybe?  That’s the impression I got.  I’m also not quite clear on who the book is actually meant for- definitely not me, but maybe a teen who’s questioning her faith is the target audience for this?  The ending was also abrupt and left a lot of questions.