Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward: Book Review

sing unburied sing jesmyn ward book reviewScribner / Adam Johnson
Sing, Unburied, Sing Book Cover Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward
Adult Fiction, African-American Literature
September 5, 2017
DRC (digital reading copy)

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.

This is an ARC review of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which releases September 5, 2017.
Special thanks to Scribner for allowing us to review ahead of publication.

Screw mathematics: 6/5 stars

Sing, Unburied, Sing was my first read by Jesmyn Ward, and I must say, I have never read a book this transformative since Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Four months after my first reading Ward’s latest literary effort in January, this book remains my favorite of the year. It truly has Pulitzer Prize potential.

In all honesty, I don’t think y’all will truly understand until you’ve picked up this book in the fall. Not only is the cover spectacular, but the pages that bring this novel together radiate with so many feels and all sorts of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Hell, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think Ward’s own blood was dripping from the pages themselves. Sing, Unburied, Sing has definitely earned its place as my new favorite piece of contemporary African-American literature without a doubt.

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is the best of the year — I’m calling it.

Before I begin, let me preface by saying this review will be written in two parts: spoiler-free, and a full-fledged review once the actual book releases. Out of respect for Ward, the lovely publicists at Scribner (and Scribner, completely), I will save the quotes and deeper analyses for September. This is done for two very important reasons: 1) I want nothing more than for everyone to buy this book and 2) Most importantly, I have so much respect for publishers and authors who give our little community chances to read amazing books such as these—and several months before their release—that I have no desire to step on any toes.

Not to keep you waiting any longer, here were my initial thoughts when I first read Sing, Unburied, Sing in January 2017:

On the cusp of manhood, 13-year-old Jojo is made to inherit many of his family’s millstones: his grandparents’ grief; surrogate fatherhood of his infant sister, Kayla; his rueful black mother, Leonie, menaced by visions of the undead, ever-poising herself for the final nosedive into irreversible nothingness; and the guilt of his newly-unfettered father, a white man named Michael who wrestles unremittingly to save her.

All of these characters melt into one another so perfectly, but I found myself extremely taken by Leonie’s story. Especially when she’s interacting with or reminiscing about Michael, which I adored the most. Michael really is the epitome of a good man—which has nothing to do with his being white as their racial differences become the backcloth of their relationship—because he accepts Leonie and doesn’t try to change her. They don’t challenge what’s different about one another, and that’s really important in any relationship. If anything, that painted a very humanizing portrait of what love (interracial or otherwise) should look like.

There is no sidestepping the meteoric discourse thundering inside Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing—it will haunt you, depressing itself deeper into your skin… until you feel. Until you understand what it means to be caught…in the crossfire of something larger than yourself, than everything. #LoveforLeonie

Stay tuned for Part Two… it’ll be worth the wait. I promise.

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Paris Close
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Founding Editor. Give me Gillian Flynn or give me death.