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Publisher's Summary

WINNER of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD for FICTION
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal
Publishers Weekly Top 10 of 2017

"The heart of Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing is story - the yearning for a narrative to help us understand ourselves, the pain of the gaps we'll never fill, the truths that are failed by words and must be translated through ritual and song...Ward's writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it." (Buzzfeed)

In Jesmyn Ward's first novel since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural 21st-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi's past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power - and limitations - of family bonds.

Jojo is 13 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 complicate his understanding: his absent white father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent white grandfather, Big Joseph, who won't acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler 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 13-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.

Rich with Ward's distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an unforgettable family story.

©2017 Jesmyn Ward (P)2017 Simon & Schuster Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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Performance

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Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Lyric & sensual writing, devastating story

I would not have appreciated spoilers for this novel, and I've seen plenty in other reviews of Ward's book. So I'll keep it short. This has the lyric power and the historic and literary importance of Toni Morrison's Beloved, but unlike in Beloved, the reader knows what the hell is going on. The setting and themes are contemporary, but you will never look at rural drug abuse or the racist injustices of the Old South in the same way after living life in JoJo's skin. Ward is particularly powerful when describing sensory perceptions. She's won one National Book Award; with Sing, Unburied, Sing, she deserves a second.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Very good read, but way too short

The story itself was wonderful, but it seems like it was too short and I still have many questions. Hopefully there will be a sequel to this book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful story; subpar performance by Wesley

Riveting story by my favorite author. Rutina Wesley’s performance was terrible, however. During her portions of the story, it was all I could do to continue listening. I eventually opted to skip her chapters on audio and read them from the copy of the book that I purchased instead. Awful! Fortunately, the other performances offset hers.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • sgonk
  • New York, NY USA
  • 11-04-17

Incredible Language and Story

Jesmyn Ward's writing is beautifully reminiscent of Faulkner and Morrison. The story feels real even as unreal events occur. The fantastical parts of the book actually help to highlight the "realness" of the rest of the story.

The story itself is about a family that is struggling to get by and to stay together. While many of the themes are timeless--or at least don't just apply to our times--there is no question the book is set in the harsh reality of the current day.

Having multiple narrators was a great choice. Rutina Wesley takes the chapters that are primarily told through Leonie's eyes, while Kelvin Harrison and Chris Chalk take the chapters narrated by male characters. All of the narrators are talented and this division of labor created a very enjoyable listening experience.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Beautiful, amazing story!

This is the best audio book I've listened to in a decade! Jesmyn Ward is a brilliant writer, her prose is beautiful and this story is deep and heartbreaking. Ward presents a story of the destructive impact of people who feel broken, yet manages to convey their humanity.
The narrators performances were fabulous!

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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One fatal flaw

Rolling Rs and trilling Ing endings does not make one a great and dramatic reader. Retina Wesley's performance took away from this audio. Otherwise I would have given it an all over four stars.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Interesting story with mostly good performances

I enjoyed the story and liked that it was told from different perspectives. The different takes on what was happening between JoJo and Leoni were thought provoking. I did not care for the performance for Leoni, though. The way the narrator were out her words was irritating. JoJo and Richie had great performances, though.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Standing Ovation

Excellent story and performance! Highly recommend. I chuckled, cried and shook my head. Beautifully written.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Very somber read

Jesmyn crafts a beautifully poetic story that puts you directly in her characters world. Although the only characters I was drawn to were Ma, and Pa. the story was intricate and was layered with complex issues which affected all the characters differently. I did find some parts of the story boring with really no forward momentum and I don't if that was because certain dialogue or certain events that unfolded. The biggest thing for me was the lack of growth/depth from Jojo. At no point in the story does it feel like he learns or discovers anything tangible; I just feel like he was uninteresting as a main. Overall the story was good.


5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding

I just didn’t expect to be gutted with such beautiful words. It was like there was dialogue to the Charles Burnett movie KILLER OF SHEEP. The pacing was deliberate and just enough for us to be with these characters on this unique journey.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful