Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones


Salvage The Bones is set over twelve days leading up to the impact of Hurricane Katrina but it is so much more than a novel about the devastating impact of that storm. It is also about poverty and the importance of family ties in tough situations.

Our Review

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward is haunting and beautifully written and it is easy to see why this book won the 2011 National Book Award.

Salvage The Bones is set over twelve days leading up to the impact of Hurricane Katrina but it is so much more than a novel about the devastating impact of that storm. It is also about poverty and the importance of family ties in tough situations.

Esch is the protagonist of the book and an incredibly strong character. She is just fourteen years old and unexpectedly pregnant with the child of her brother’s friend Manny. She is in love but unfortunately those feelings aren’t reciprocated.

Nobody in her family has noticed her budding pregnancy as they are all too occupied with other things. Esch’s mother died when she eight years old giving birth to her youngest brother Junior. Junior is looked after by all his siblings and just wants to be allowed to tag along with any plans they make. His favourite pastime is hiding in the crawl space under their house.

“Mama had all of us in her bed, under her own bare burning bulb, so when it was time for Junior, she thought she could do the same. It didn’t work that way. Mama squatted, screamed towards the end. Junior came out purple…she said she didn’t want to go to hospital. Daddy dragged her from the bed to his truck, tracking her blood, and we never saw her again.”

Randall is the oldest of the siblings and wants nothing more than play professional basketball. His goal for the summer is to go basketball camp but he knows their father is never going to have the money to pay for him to go. His only chance is if he is spotted by a professional scout.

Skeetah is the brother she is closest to, but he only has eyes for his pit bull China who at the start of the book is about to give birth to her first litter of puppies. He puts all his time and energy into ensuring the puppies survive so he can sell them for a profit when they are ready to leave their mother.

“He is the second child, sixteen, but he is the first for China. She only has eyes for him.”

Despite clearly caring for China potential readers need to be aware that Skeetah essentially uses China as a fighting dog and there are some pretty graphic descriptions of this during the book as well as the death of some puppies.

The family live in a ramshackle house in the woods built by their grandfather in an area known as The Pit. The children live in a state of poverty with little money for food or anything else. They live off canned good as that is the only food their father knows how to cook. Most of the time he is too drunk to pay much attention to his children.

The only thing their dad does pay attention to is the weather. He is convinced that the Gulf Coast is going to become the new Hurricane Alley and that he and his family need to start preparing. His children aren’t convinced and see his preparations as an unnecessary inconvenience.

“Most don’t even hit us head-on anymore; most turn right to Florida or take a left for Texas, brush past and glance off us like a shirtsleeve. We ain’t had one come straight for us in years, time enough to forget how many jugs of water we need to fill, how many cans of sardines and potted meat we should stock, how many tubs of water we need. But on the radio that daddy keeps playing in his parked truck, I heard them talking about it earlier today. How the forecasters said the tenth tropical depression had just dissipated in the Gulf but another one seems to be forming around Puerto Rico.”

Esch is a well-written character and one I believe most readers will easily be able to empathise with. Since the age of twelve Esch has sought love by having sex with friends of her brothers. In the last five months though she has only had eyes for Manny. She is in love with him and all she wants is for him to look at her with love, the way China looks at Skeetah. The reader will quickly realise this hope is naïve.

I frequently wanted to shake her as her pregnancy progressed and she continues to bury her head in the sand and not to confide in anyone in her family.

From the moment the author reveals to the reader that the oncoming storm is Katrina Salvage the Bones becomes much tenser. I felt like I wanted to urge the characters to forget their other concerns and concentrate on preparations for the coming storm.

Jesmyn Ward has some fantastic descriptions of hurricane Katrina in Salvage the Bones.

“Katrina surprised everyone with her uncompromising strength, her forcefulness, the way she lingered; she made things happen that never happened before.”

Salvage the Bones is a brilliant book and I will be looking out for more of her work.

Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

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