Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Release Date: 2017
Genre: Fiction / Magical Realism
My Rating: 2 Stars
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. he doesn't lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicant his understanding: his absent white father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his grandfather Big Joseph, who won't acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler's sister's lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children's father is white. She wants to be a better mother but can't put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
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 thirteen-year-old 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. (Source: Book Blurb).
This is one of those books I really wanted to enjoy, if not for anything else, just to fit in. But seeing I’m never one to fit in, I was not surprised when I struggled with it for 4 weeks! I actually finished two books in between reading this one as it just wasn’t working for me.
Jojo is a mixed race 13-year-old boy, his mother Leonie is a drug addict struggling between selfishness, addiction and being a mother to Jojo and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla. Then there is Michael, Jojo’s white father who is in Jail at Parchman penitentiary. Jojo and Kayla live with their grandparents, Pop and Mam who have tried to fill in the gap left by their absentee parents, Leonie and Michael.
When Leonie gets word that Michael will be released from Jail, she packs up her kids and a friend, Misty, in the car and they all make their way to Parchman to pick him up. A large part of the story takes place during this drive. And then there are ghosts!!! Jojo sees and talks to a ghost, Richard, who was an inmate at Parchman with Pop. Richard the ghost even has his own chapters in the book. Leonie is also frequently visited by the ghost of his long deceased brother, Given. But this only happens when she is high.
I guess you can already tell where I started losing interest in the story – magical realism is definitely not my cuppa tea. This is the same reason I did not enjoy ‘Freshwater’ by Emezi. Whist this is a seemingly moving and heartbreaking tale of familial bonds and struggles, I just did not seem to relate to any of it. I also struggled with the language the first few chapters. African that I am, I really struggled with the deep southern dialect, it got easier though as I kept reading.
The one thing I loved about the book is Jojo. He was my hero. At such a tender age, he took on parental responsibilities for his younger sister Kayla and was overly protective of her. Their bond was unmistakable and moving and I absolutely loved it. Jojo was also quite mature, having been forced to grow up fast by circumstances.
This book has reminded me why I avoid overhyped books. They rarely live up to my expectations.
I would recommend you approach with caution 2/5 stars.