Monday, June 27, 2016

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Sometimes, you encounter a book, at it is just not the right time for you two to become acquainted. You put it on the shelf and just wait for that moment.

Such was my experience with Jesmyn Ward's work, Salvage the Bones. I first started the book in 2013 and for some reason, could not connect with the story. It wasn't time, until June 2016 when she called my name and asked to be recognized.

This is the most lyrical, descriptive, imaginative, and visual language I have encountered in a very long time.  The story encapsulated in these twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina left me as spent as if I were racing aganst rain to secure myself and my belongings while dealing with the uncertainty of poverty, place, and purpose.

The young protagonist, Esch, is the only girl and up until nine years ago, the  youngest child of this Mississippi Gulf Coast family. Their homestead sitting on land inherited from her mother's family, this young girl is left to help mother her younger brother who lived after their mother died giving birth. She is left to navigate the rural south, modern day oppression, her father's grief, her brother's obsession with China, the dog that was supposed to fight for their freedom, and the confusing message of her female-ness being the only thing of value.

Jesmyn invites us to examine family and what they do for each other, to examine respectability or lack thereof, abject poverty, gender, sex, male bravado, and neglect against the backdrop of a category 5 life altering event that shatters everything they thought they knew.

Set in fictional Bois Sauvage in the tiny eye of the Gulf Coast, this is mirrored after the author's own hometown, DeLisle, Mississippi. The neighboring town in still-segregated Mississippi,  St. Catherine is the beach town that even with the pristine front and only-money-and-whiteness existence, succumbed to the ravages of a storm that demanded attention. She demands that we examine race from a different perspective, told in the first person of a fourteen year old girl trying to figure out what to do with the life-altering event taking place within her soul.

I found myself hopeful and despairing, engaged and challenged, ultimately, satisfied that though the storm tore up more than New Orleans, Katrina shifted the balance for things to come for the Batiste family.

One note to younger readers, this story is on the Honors English list for the local high school for its lovely story, exquisite writing, and coming-of-age narrative, however, it is quite descriptive of some things that may be challenging for those younger-than-high-school. 

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