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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones (2011)

by Jesmyn Ward

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I just read Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward who won the National Book Award for it. It is magnificent.

Some of the reviewers say it is about Hurricane Katrina, which the author experienced herself with her family. I think the book would be a great book if the storm weren't even in it.

I have never read anything with a more appealing adolescent heroine. She has three brothers, and a boy by whom she becomes pregnant. One of her brothers raises and trains pit bulls for fighting, and his bitch has puppies at the beginning of the book. There is enormous love between the boy and the dog, and this is not like Lassie Come Home. This is a murderous dog. But the dog and the boy are inseparable.

What was also powerful to me, BESIDES THE TERRIFYING SCENES OF THE HURRICANE, was the transition she made from having sex with any boy who wanted her, to refusing them all except the one she loved. She found it easier to give in to their desires than to argue or fight them off until she experienced love. She was not a pretty girl, but strong, and solid. She didn't expect romance, but fell in love with a light skinned, handsome boy she had sex with. He was, however, living with another girl, prettier, and with lighter skin than hers. He disavowed paternity, and the girl fought him, physically.


Most books treat a girl like that as a victim, or a delinquent. (Her mother died in childbirth, her father was an alcoholic and disabled from an accident, and her strongest brother trained dogs to kill.) Instead, this book makes you empathize with her powerful feelings and share her fear, disappointment and shame about the pregnancy.

Subsequently there is acceptance of it by her, by one of her brother's friends, and by her father. Everything they had was destroyed in the hurricane, but they all survived except for the dog and her puppies. The mother of the friend who stands by her, allows them to live in her still standing house, until they can rebuild their own.
Edit | More ( )
  almigwin | Jan 31, 2014 |
wonderful and moving ( )
  cherylwhatley | Jan 20, 2014 |
Really good story but also quite depressing. This is the kind of book everyone should read but no one will re-read.This is the story of Esch and her family, dirt poor, motherless and living in rural Mississippi right before Hurricane Katrina hits. I rarely cry but this made me tear up. It is disturbing knowing that people live like this in our own country. I really hated the dog fighting scenes, though. Wondering about the fate of China, her brother's beloved pit bull, an her puppies, was just as nail-biting as the rest of the book. ( )
1 vote bookmagic | Jan 4, 2014 |
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Haunting, emotional novel
By Heather ORoark on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Fourteen-year-old Esch, who has just found out that she's pregnant, is simply trying to keep things at home together when she and her family learn of the hurricane that is about to hit their home in Bois Savage, Mississippi. Esch's father, a man who spends most of his time drinking, is concerned about the hurricane and tries to get she and her three brothers to board up windows and get the canned goods together in preparation. Her brother Randall begins this process, her brother Junior tries but is too young to do much, but her brother Skeetah is too busy nursing his pit bull fighter, China, back to health after the birth of her puppies. As this family struggles to pull themselves together, the hurricane becomes the backdrop for all the trials they regularly face in day-to-day life.

Salvage the Bones is unlike any novel I've read before. It is so honest, so raw, and at times so painful that I wanted to close the book and run away, but ultimately I was deeply moved by this story. Esch and her family crawled into my heart and their struggles were so palpable that I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and lift them out.

This book is not an easy read. It broke my heart a million times over. China, Skeetah's pit bull, is a fighting dog and as a person who loves pit bulls and has some very close family and friends who have pits as pets, the whole dogfighting business makes me extremely angry. So it was not the best for me to be reading about people fighting these precious, intelligent, loving, sweet animals. This was probably the most difficult aspect of the book for me, although the family does experience the actual hurricane and that portion of the book was hard to read too. Just know that while this story is not an easy one to read, it is certainly rewarding in the end.

Salvage the Bones elicited so many emotions in me as I was reading it. I was so frustrated by Esch's father's inability (or unwillingness) to take care of his family properly. Esch essentially raised her youngest brother, Junior, on her own after their mother died during his childbirth. I was so angry at the boy who got Esch pregnant as he didn't care for her at all and was, in the most clear and simple case of this I've seen in fiction, just using her for sex. I was heartbroken and mad about the fighting dogs. But mostly, the book made me feel an overwhelming sadness, the overwhelming feeling that this family just could not get it together, that things would never turn around for them. Their situation was just so upsetting, so heartbreaking, that I couldn't help but feel despair while reading about it. In fact, toward the middle of the novel there is a dogfighting scene, at which point I burst into tears and didn't stop crying until the end of the book. It affected me that much.

Salvage the Bones is an excellent, haunting novel that brought me to tears. Not much about this book is hopeful or happy, but there is a glimmer of something there at the end that makes it all worth the journey through this family's pain. This novel absolutely broke my heart, but at the same time I can't help but recommend that you read it too. ( )
1 vote lmbigens | Oct 22, 2013 |
You really just need to pick up Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I could just end my review right there.

But I guess I won’t. I’ll tell you a little more.

Over the course of twelve days, you learn about a poor family in Mississippi, before, during, and after a large hurricane sweeps through town. You may have heard of this hurricane. It’s Katrina.

Esch’s father is very concerned about the hurricane, but he doesn’t stay sober enough to make sure all of the plans go through properly.

For the full review, visit Love at First Book ( )
  LoveAtFirstBook | Jul 10, 2013 |
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See now that I, even I am he, and there is no god with me; I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal, neither is there any can deliver out of my hand. -Deuteronomy 32:39

For though I'm small, I know many things, and my body is an endless eye through which, unfortunately, I see everything. -Gloria Fuertes, "Now"

We on our backs staring at the stars about, talking about what we going to be when we grow up, I said what you wanna be? She said, "Alive." -Outkast, "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)," Aquemini
For my brother, Joshua Adam Dedeaux,

who leads while I follow.
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China's turned on herself.
"To give life...is to know what's worth fighting for. And what's love."
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Book description
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
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Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.… (more)

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