I had to take things slowly while reading Sing, Unburied, Sing. I debated whether or not to even finish it because of how heavy it felt right from the beginning. But my strategy for this book was simple: two chapters each night, max. But once I got about 2/3 of the way through the book, I absolutely could not stop. I had a sick and uneasy feeling the entire time and was constantly worried about what was going to happen to the main characters – was someone going to die? Was someone going to get seriously hurt? Were bonds going to be irrevocably shattered?
In the big picture, this book is about racial identity, racism, ghosts, witchcraft, parenting, being a child, and learning to love yourself despite the horrible things you’ve witnessed or done. It is an amazing testament to resiliency and love. It was worth every second of the discomfort that I felt.
This book tells the story of a bi-racial family in Mississippi. It mostly switches between two main characters, Leonie and her son Jojo. Jojo is young – maybe not quite a teenager? And he’s living with his African American grandparents and his baby sister Kayla. Leonie is in and out of the picture – the white father of her children is in jail and she’s addicted to drugs.
The bulk of this story describes Leonie’s trip to pick up Michael, her boyfriend, from jail while bringing Jojo and Kayla with her. This trip is full of peril; one has to remember to breathe as this family moves from one dangerous situation to another. Drugs, strange encounters, and police stops are just a small part of their journey, and Ward keeps the reader on the edge of her seat, not knowing how each little saga is going to end.
We also learn more about Jojo’s grandfather, Pop, and his past. While Jojo and Leonie’s storylines are contemporary, Pop’s story shows the incredibly unjust past that he experienced. His story is tragic and heart wrenching, but he turned out to be an amazingly strong and good person. If everyone in the world was like Pop, the world would be an amazing place.
If you’re thinking it’s too difficult for you to read: it’s not. Yes, it’s heavy. Yes, it’s heartbreaking. Yes, you’ll want to hug your babies a little tighter each night and make sure you’re present as a mother or a parent in every way possible. Yes, you’ll ache about the way this country has treated people of color. But this is a book that feels necessary to read right now. When I finished, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the absolute worst never happened, but the lives of these children are impacted daily by this country’s lack of understanding and/or commitment to righting its wrongs. I am so glad that I read it despite all of my reservations.
What about you? Have you read Sing, Unburied, Sing? Or anything else by Jesmyn Ward? What were your thoughts on it? Or is there a book that was so difficult for you to get through, but so worth it in the end?