Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel Paperback – May 8, 2018

by Jesmyn Ward

The second book in Ward’s Bois Sauvage triptych about motherless children protecting each other (no need to read the other ones to get the full benefit of Sing, Unburied, Sing, although there is a brief glimpse of the siblings from the first book) Jojo and his little sister Kayla live with their grandparents on a backwood farm in poor-as-dirt Gulf Mississippi haunted a legacy of lynching and poverty and seeing the dead.

Reading almost like long streams of consciousness prose poems with language that evokes visceral physicality right from the opening scene of Jojo and Pop butchering a goat, the story does not shy away from the brutal reality of Jojo’s poverty, Pops past wrongfully imprisoned in a work camp, his grandmother wasting away from cancer, nor his meth-addicted mother’s abuse.

This slice-of-life portrayal of the generational damage done by racism and poverty is strung along the main narrative thread of Jojo and Kayla accompanying their mother on a road trip to prison to pick up their father.

But what’s really happening is a long, forced submersion into the deep currents, blood, sweat, and crumbly black dirt of their harsh reality– of Jojo protecting his little sister, passively accepting abuse and neglect, scrounging up crackers, wiping away carsick, and then as they reach the prison, becoming haunted by the spirit of a boy from Pop’s past.

The writing is gorgeous and challenging and banally evil, and the book not something I would recommend for the unwary. You will come away burdened by the harsh truths presented here about the casual cruelty of humanity– with just the tiniest sliver of hope at the end.