In observance of Black Month History, here is a Book Review for you — Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
National Book Award winner, Sing, Unburied, Sing is the third novel by the talented Jesmin Ward. It also made the New York Times list of the ten best books of 2017.
In a nutshell, the road novel is home to a Black family who has Leonie as an uncaring, detached mother, her two children, Jojo (who is a young teenager and adorable) and Kayla (a young girl), their grandparents, Mam and Pop, Leonie’s friend Misty, and Michael, Leoni’s boyfriend and father to the children.
Michael is to be released from Parchman Farm, the Mississipi State Penitentiary in the fictitious Bois Sauvage, an extremely racist town which is surrounded and defined by poverty and the hard realities that come with it. In an attempt to prove to to her boyfriend that their family can still be whole, Leonie, who is entirely indifferent to the business of being a mother, insists on bringing Jojo, Kayla, and Misty, the friend she gets high with, on the road trip.
On the one hand, you have Leonie with considerate, hard-working parents, but who is bruised by the hardships of life and the murder of her brother by a white man, Michael’s cousin. The police dismissed the case years before as a hunting accident. Leonie disappears for days at a time, feeding her drug addiction, aiming to forget all about her suffering. Her brother’s ghost appears every time she is high. She is also short-tempered and hits her children when impatient.
On the other hand, you have the love, empathy, and admiration that Kayla and Jojo have for each other. Jojo has Kayla at the center of his life, and the feeling is reciprocal. The little girl gets sick during the road trip, and Jojo is the one person who actually takes care of her. Her own mom, Leonie, does not even care to feed her children, and talk of buying medicine at a pharmacy doesn’t even permeate anyone’s thoughts. I feel that Jojo and Kayla would have had an easier life had they actually lived by themselves or with Mam and Pop instead.
To make the narrative even richer and the characters immersed in their own thoughts and stories, Jesmin adds ghosts who visit some of the characters. As I mentioned, the ghost of Given, Leonie’s brother, visits her whenever she gets high. We also have this really well-constructed character, Richie, a boy who also went to Parchman decades ago and who has a connection with Pop. Richie is a companion to Jojo, who is otherwise pretty lonely throughout the book.
For me, this was an incredibly rich novel told by the point of view of each one of the characters. Families like the one depicted in the story, utterly affected by racism and poverty above all things, are much more prevalent than society cares to notice.