book review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward


Scribner, September 5, 2017

Hmm. Still processing my thoughts, here. I’ll be honest: I didn’t love this. I just can’t quite put my finger on why.

Jesmyn Ward is a brilliant writer. Her prose is gorgeous and immersive. The comparisons to Faulkner and Morrison are not unwarranted at all; to Morrison especially. This is an important story about one African American family navigating the systematic discrimination that they have endured for years. It’s moving, disheartening, tragic, and lyrical. It’s exactly the kind of book that I usually love.

It seems a bit callous to say that I didn’t really care about these characters, and I’m not sure that’s even true… I did care about Jojo, the thirteen year old son of drug addict Leonie who’s more of a parent to his younger sister, Kayla, than their mother is. But it just wasn’t enough to hold my interest. So much is attempted in these pages, right down to the inclusion of actual ghosts, but I can’t help but to feel like there was a certain lack of subtlety to the themes Ward was addressing. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of depth buried beneath the surface – I thought it was all spelled out in a sort of obvious way. Perhaps if the novel had been longer, Ward could have given herself more space to develop this narrative and its themes in a more challenging and compelling way. The bottom line is, this book tried to engage me on both an emotional and intellectual level, but it failed to really do either. But I can’t help but to feel like that’s more on me than the author.

Read this book*. This is a timely and important novel that will hopefully infuriate and inspire you. It didn’t work for me, but for once I’m glad to be in the minority. I’m glad that so many people are loving this book the way I had hoped to.

*Unless you have emetophobia. Literally half the novel is a child vomiting in a car. It got to be a bit much for me.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley, Scribner, and Jesmyn Ward for the opportunity.

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