Book Review: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

4/5 Stars.

Salvage the Bones is a brutal and beautiful novel about a family living in rural Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina is about to strike.

Fifteen-year-old Esch is surrounded by boys. She lives with her father and three brothers, whose friends are always around. After sleeping with one of her brother’s friends, she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Meanwhile, her brother Skeetah’s prized pit bull, China, has just given birth, and the puppies are slowly dying. Esch—whose mother died in childbirth—has only ever known motherhood as something that is unmerciful and brutal and tragic.

This is a deeply visceral novel, written in the kind of prose that makes you feel like you can taste and smell and feel everything that Esch is experiencing. There’s violence and harshness within, but also beauty, loyalty and tenderness. Ward explores this juxtaposition in several ways, such as with Skeetah and China, whose bond transcends what you would expect from a boy and the pit bull he owns for dogfighting.

And all the while, the threat of Katrina looms. While Esch and her family doubt the severity of it at first, we readers know what’s coming. This palpable dread mounts to a terrifying and intense denouement that challenges each member of the family in a profound and devastating way.

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Book Review: The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

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4.5/5 Stars.

A book like this is especially important right now. Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the widespread national anthem protests and the recent election of a racist president, The Fire This Time digs deep into the legacy of racism in America and what it means to be black in the past, in the present and in the future.

Curated by National Book Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward and dedicated to Trayvon Martin, it’s an anthology divided into three parts: Legacy, Reckoning and Jubilee.

Each writer is tasked with examining what Ward calls “the ugly truths that plague us in this country.” The essays and poems contained within are deeply personal in nature, filled with anger, sadness, and hope.

White people in America (myself included, of course) can never truly understand what it’s like to endure unfathomable injustices based on the color of our skin. I believe that we have a responsibility to listen to black voices and become more empathetic and aware. The Fire This Time joins Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as as an important work of non-fiction that can help us with that. Like Coates’ book, this one wasn’t written for us (white people), but we can all become better people by reading it.