Sing Unburied Sing

Sing Unburied Sing


Jojo is thirteen and determined to prove himself as a man. He idolises his grandfather Pop and longs to impress the man who has been one of his sole role models.

Jojo's three year old sister Kayla turns solely to him for comfort since their mother, Leonie, is often off taking drugs and their father is in prison.

When their father is released from prison the children are reluctant passengers on the journey to collect them.

Once at the prison Jojo encounters a ghost from Pop's past. A ghost who will teach him all about the violent past of the South.

Our Review

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward first caught my interest when I read that Margaret Atwood was a fan. I am a massive fan of Atwood and her praise alone was enough to peak my interest. She said the following in a tweet:

“This wrenching new novel by Jesmyn Ward digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American Nightmare.”

This split narrative tale deals with some complex issues from racial discrimination, neglect and drug use to poverty and cancer. The heart of Sing, Unburied, Sing comes once again from Jesmyn Ward’s ability to write realistic characters that readers can empathise with.

My favourite character was thirteen-year-old Jojo. He was the reason I finished this book in just one day, he and his sister Kayla. I disliked their mother Leonie with an equal intensity, she is an incredibly selfish character and one I couldn’t empathise with in any way. She was also essential to my enjoyment of the book.

Sing, Unburied, Sing opening lines make the reader wonder what is going on and what Jojo is about to do.

“I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight…I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned my thirteen years.”

It is Jojo’s thirteenth birthday and he is about to kill a goat with his grandfather, a man he greatly admires.

Pop and Mam, Jojo’s grandparents have practically brought him and his three-year old sister Kayla. Their mother Leonie is a habitual drug user and cannot be relied upon in any way and his father Michael is in prison.

When JoJo leaves the house that morning he takes care not to slam the door and wake Mam as Mam is terminally ill with cancer.

“Better for Grandma Mam to sleep because the chemo done dried her up and hollowed her out the way the sun and air do water oats.”

We learn that for JoJo Pop is his one constant in life, his Black grandpa. Big Joseph, his White grandpa has only spoken to him twice because he doesn’t like the fact that his son has had kids with a Black girl.

Jojo hasn’t called Leonie since he was young, and Leonie had more good days than bad. Before Michael went to jail.

“Before she started snorting crushed pills. Before all the little mean things she told me gathered and gathered and lodged like grit in a skinned knee.”

Michael has been in prison for three years, since before Kayla was born and Leonie’s drug use has spiralled out of control since until she cares about her next fix more than her own children. Her daughter seeks comfort from Jojo before she would ever turn to Leonie. As a reader I had a sinking feeling when Leonie receives a phone call from Michael to say he is getting out of jail and she decides to take the children with her.

During the journey Jojo encounters a ghost from Pop’s past and learns more about his Pop’s time in Parchman when he just a boy. Parchman was a working farm style prison which the author uses to highlight the discrimination faced by Black people in the Southern states at that time. This is primarily illustrated via the young ghost boy named Richie and makes for a sobering read.

Richie was just twelve when he came to Parchman and Pop took him under his wing. He had been sent there for stealing food, food for his brothers and sisters.

“Lots of folk was in there for stealing food because everybody was poor and starving, and even though White People couldn’t get your work for free, they did everything they could to avoid hiring you and paying you for it.”

Via Richie we find out the dark secrets hidden in Pop’s past and better understand the discrimination faced by him and others over the years, discrimination which continues into the present in the book in a variety of ways and makes for uncomfortable reading.

At times I found Sing, Unburied, Sing more difficult to focus on than Salvage The Bones but I persisted and it turned out to be a gratifying read.

Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

  • Currently 4/5

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