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Salvage the Bones: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Jesmyn Ward

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Title:Salvage the Bones: A Novel
Authors:Jesmyn Ward
Info:Bloomsbury USA (2012), Edition: 1, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2011)


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Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for fiction, Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones tells the story of 15-year-old Esch Batiste, whose family lives in poverty on a junk-strewn patch of dirt in the town of Bois Sauvage, in Gulf Coast Mississippi. The story takes place in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, and in the storm’s immediate aftermath. Esch’s mother is dead and her father, his spirit broken, has become a shiftless and occasionally violent drunk, so the care and feeding of Esch, her older brothers Skeetah and Randall, and younger brother Junior, is pretty much left to the children themselves. Though toughened by adversity and a hardscrabble existence, they have not yet become cynical and bitter, and all of them live in hope of something better. Randall is working toward a basketball scholarship. Skeetah’s pit bull China has just given birth to a litter of puppies that he hopes to sell. However, Esch’s situation is precarious and dangerous. Since the age of twelve she has been having sex with her brothers’ friends (because it’s easier to let them have their way than to try to get them to stop) and she’s recently discovered that she’s pregnant, a fact that she’s trying to hide from everyone, though she can no longer hide it from herself. The action centres on tensions that arise among the children and their friends, tensions that culminate in a skirmish at a basketball game and again at an arranged dogfight, a harrowing and savage contest that the reader will not be inclined to linger over but also not quickly forget. All along, their father, listening to radio reports, has been telling them that a storm is approaching, but it’s only when the outward signs are present and undeniable (the rising wind, the disappearing birds) that the children start to heed his warnings and make preparations. The hurricane scene, vividly rendered and relentlessly gripping, pushes that narrative tension to an excruciating level. Afterward, as the characters emerge from their ruined homes and take in the destruction and what it means, the reader shares their confusion and heartbreak. Though it is certainly true that Salvage the Bones is about the resilience of the human spirit, it also about love and loyalty and the ties that bind us, one to another; it is about want and need and ordinary human kindness. Addressing a catastrophic event that caused hundreds of fatalities, affected countless lives, changed government policy, and etched an indelible place for itself in the cultural lore of the southern United States, Esch’s narrative has an almost mythic quality to it, partly because we know what’s coming, partly because of her private pain and the firmness of her resolve to survive and protect her family from harm come hell or high water. Jesmyn Ward's second novel is one of those rare works of fiction that uses the experience of a small group of people to make a universal statement. Little wonder it has achieved classic status in only a few years. ( )
  icolford | Jul 5, 2017 |
I have no problem recommending this National Book Award winner to anyone. It takes place in a small Mississippi Gulf Coast town over the 10 or so days as Hurricane Katrina is building in the coast. The characters are real and endearing. Esch, the 14 year old narrator, is the surrogate mother for her three brothers (Their mother died giving birth to the youngest brother; the two other brothers are older than Esch). She is grappling with the fact that she may be pregnant. Her oldest brother Randall is a high school basketball star who lacks the means to go to an important basketball camp. Skeetah has a pitbull named China, who has just given birth to a litter of puppies. Despite his clearly conveyed deep love for his dog, Skeetah endangers her in brutal pitbull dog fights. He hopes to win the funds to allow Randall to attend the basketball camp. The youngest child, Junior, just wants to make sure that he doesn't miss out on anything.

The hurricane remains in the background for much of the book. The children are vaguely aware that it is out there, but are not at all apprehensive. Ward, however, skillfully builds the tension each day, to the point that I began to wonder how she was ever going to pull off the drama of the storm itself. Needless to say, she did. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 20, 2017 |
Why do I keep finding books that contain animal cruelty, which is exactly the last thing I want to read about? This novel, in the main about Hurricane Katrina, also features dog fighting, which is so primitive a 'sport' that only small-membered men would ever want to participate, and teenage pregnancy, thrown in for good measure. I thought I was reading about Depression era Mississippi, so backwards are the characters, until the storm they're preparing for is named as Katrina (2005). The author lived through the devastation, so the atmosphere and sense of danger are the strongest elements of the story. I felt sorriest for China the dog and her puppies, though. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Mar 7, 2017 |
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a powerful story about a poor Mississippi black family living in Bayou country as Hurricane Katrina gathers itself to strike. The main character is fourteen year old teenager Esch, who lives in a rundown shack on a piece of property they call The Pit. Esch lives with her three brothers and her father, their mother died seven years ago giving birth to the youngest son. The father works at odd jobs and nurses his anger with alcohol. The children are close, but have been left to raise themselves. Esch has a secret, she is pregnant. The father is one of her brother’s friends, Manny, whom she thinks she loves. But Manny is simply using her and really wants nothing to do with her. Alone, fearful and afraid to let her family know she is pregnant, she tries to hide it.

Another important element to the story is China, a white pit bull that one of her brothers has raised, loves and uses in dogfights. A word of warning, if the idea of dogfights and cruelty to animals upsets you, than this is probably not a story that you should read. I found that the story was told so realistically and openly that judgments really had no place. This is their life.

Meanwhile Katrina is lurking on the horizon, and although we know with hindsight how life changing this storm was, the vivid description was mesmerizing. Salvage the Bones is a big-hearted story about family that is told in almost musical prose. The author’s vision and passion delivers a magical story of love and caring that no amount of poverty change erase. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Feb 17, 2017 |
I loved the narrator, the story was great and suspenseful.... Too much heart break for me. I am reminded that I lead a very sheltered comfortable life! ( )
  LASMIT | Dec 31, 2016 |
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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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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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