Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 photo cred: cici ford

photo cred: cici ford

I heard so many wonderful things about this book. Not only about this book, but Ward as a writer in general. After reading Sing, Unburied, SIng I went straight to Amazon and added a few more of her books into my cart. I fell in love with her writing. If you are a fan of Toni Morrison or Alice Walker, you may NEED to add Ward to your literary arsenal. Ward writes, so authentically, the Mississippi's Gulf Coast dialect, the ragged rural and racist south, both past and present, as well as a very heart wrenching and unvarnished account of a dysfunctional southern family. Check the synopsis below!


An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds. 

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. 

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 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.   

This story imparts, in grand detail, the constant struggles of a black family trying to keep their heads above water while dealing with poverty, sickness, drugs and the never-to-unravel fiber of racism and hatred in America. Ward writes these characters in such a palpable way. I felt every emotion they felt especially for Jojo. Jojo is the thirteen year old son of Leonie, a drug addict, who also hallucinates about her murdered brother, Given, when she falls into drug fueled euphorias. Throughout the story I felt like I wanted to rescue Jojo. He has to leave his childhood behind and learn to become a man rather quickly. He is exposed to the chemical co dependency of his mother, he becomes a father figure to his baby sister, Michaela, because of the strain between them. He has to witness his maternal voo doo practicing grandmother, Mam, dying of cancer and deal with an incarcerated father, Michael, who happens to be white and Michael's parents are bleed red, white and blue good ole' southern racists who disapprove of their sons choice for a partner for no other reason than color.

Jojo's character reminded me of the constant conversation that tackles how young black boys have to also carry the weight of the world when growing up in toxic environments. Alot of the time, they don't have the chance to decipher what their place or purpose in the world even is. Subsequently creating feelings of inadequacy. This causes Jojo to resent his mother.  Jojo has a very close knit relationship with Leonie’s father, River. He cares for Jojo and Michaela as if they are his own, but River is a proud man whose heart has been hardened and in any situation he thinks with his head first. He is constantly haunted by a decision he made in his younger years to take someone's life in mercy while at Parchman Penitentiary. This is where Jojo's father is held up but is soon to be released. Leonie makes the decision to take a road trip to pick him up upon his release. It's better for her to pretend to have a stable nuclear family than to deal with the pain of her current circumstances and death of her brother than constantly looms over her when she's high. Not to mention, her brother was murdered by Michael's cousin. 

 photo cred: cici ford

photo cred: cici ford

The most interesting aspect of this story is Richie, the ghost of a boy who was once incarcerated at Parchman. He follows the family home and begins to detail the horrid tales of his own history and other detestable things that occurred during that time to Jojo in particular.  I really felt that Ward used Richie as a metaphor for the way in which the history of African Americans people affects the present. Richie represents the past and Jojo the present. Richie (history) is seeking to find a place of peace, understanding, a family, a different kind of life in the present, but racism, hate and systemic depravity stem from the things of the past so there is no freedom for either of them.

I could go on about this book for days. Her writing is captivating and this was such a unique approach to outlining the juxtaposition of past and present in terms of the affects of slavery and racism. This books is a must read and should be required reading for both high school and college students particularly college students studying Sociology, Women or African American studies.

My Rating 5/5