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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
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Salvage the Bones (2011)

by Jesmyn Ward

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960829,024 (3.8)236
  1. 10
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Powerful stuff. ( )
  RachelGMB | Aug 5, 2015 |
Salvage the Bones is about a family living in Mississippi in 2005 as Katrina is getting ready to hit. The focus is on Esch being pregnant, her brothers, dog fighting, her alcoholic that sometimes there father and the impending hurricane in the Gulf. The kids mother died giving birth to the youngest child and they have pretty much been left to fend for themselves making them a close knit family. I went in expecting the book to be more about the family preparing, fighting and surviving the hurricane and it isn’t, it was still a good read, but I was looking forward to that based on the description. Some scenes are hard to read, like puppies being born, dog fights, and detailed injuries. They are hard to read because they are well written to the point it makes you cringe. With that said, I did not like the dog fighting parts. There was some glamorizing of it and that annoyed the fuck out of me. I’m giving it three stars because it was an interesting read, but I think there was just too much going on to make it an emotional read. It was almost there, but not quite. ( )
  GrlIntrrptdRdng | Jul 31, 2015 |
I would not have picked up Salvage the Bones if it wasn't assigned for school, but I'm glad I read it. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to and got really involved. It has a sort of addicting quality to it.

From the back: 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.

Jesmyn Ward is a very good writer, especially when it comes to communicating emotions. On the other hand, Salvage the Bones can be vague and confusing at points.

Reading this, I felt a lot of sympathy for Esch. She's a poor fourteen year old girl with a dead mother and low self worth. Yes, she makes some mistakes, but I think they are understandable given her circumstances. From the beginning it's clear that Esch is very intelligent - she talks about how much her English class means to her, and she's constantly referring to Jason and Medea. It's a pleasure to see her find her strength by the end of the book.

I think this should be fairly obvious, but if you're going to enjoy Salvage the Bones you need to suspend moral judgement. A girl in a our small discussion group spent a lot of time being angry at Esch for becoming pregnant, and she really didn't get anything out of the book. There's also a dog fighting sequence which was pretty rough to read.

Salvage the Bones takes place over twelve days, with the threat of the impending hurricane looming over everything. This helped give it a sense of urgency and foreboding that worked very well for it.

I think Salvage the Bones dealt a lot with the idea of motherhood. Esch is obviously about to become a mother, and her brother's dog has just given birth. What I got from the book is the idea that motherhood makes you stronger.

This was an unexpected find for me, and I don't really know who I would recommend it to.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Apr 22, 2015 |
Salvage the Bones centers on the character, Esch, who is a teenage girl in a family full of boys, one of whom, Skeetah, raises a fighting pitbull named China. The novel begins with China giving birth, which mirrors the seminal moment in the family’s life, when their mother died giving birth to her youngest son, Junior. Adding to the emotional tension Esch’s pregnancy with another Manny’s child. Esch is in love with Manny even though he is bad for her and is with another girl. This drama is set against the backdrop of the impending hurricane Katrina.

One of the things that made me like this book was how morally ambiguous it is. None of the characters are right or wrong. They are all just people with human motivations and follies. The closest that we come to a sense of right or wrong is that Manny comes off as an insensitive jerk at times, but even he has redeeming qualities, which become evident towards the end of the book.

I also loved the creative symmetry of the novel. The author, Jesmyn Ward, opens the novel with China giving birth. At the end of the novel, the focus is on the future and Esch’s pregnancy. At the novel’s climax, Hurricane Katrina is compared to a mother, and the memory of Esch’s mother who died giving birth permeates the novel. The idea of what it means to be a mother and the idea that a mother can be strong as well as nurturing is consistent throughout the novel. As a counterpoint, Big Henry, the largest male in the novel, is the most nurturing character, which again challenges the typical role of the mother as the nurturer and the father as the sense of strength. Again, this adds to the humanity of the characters and the depth of the novel.

I really liked this novel. It was enjoyable to read, and at times it made me think a bit about cultural attitudes, poverty, and what it must be like to go through a disaster. Ward manages to create empathy in the reader by portraying such human characters, which is admirable. I thought this all made for a very good book. ( )
2 vote fuzzy_patters | Jul 17, 2014 |
This book left me stunned! ( )
  Jolynne | Jul 4, 2014 |
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
For my brother, Joshua Adam Dedeaux,

who leads while I follow.
First words
China's turned on herself.
Quotations
"To give life...is to know what's worth fighting for. And what's love."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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