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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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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a brutally honest, raw, emotional, eye-opening and powerful story about a poor black family living in Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina head their way. The main character of the book is a fourteen year old heroine named Esch. She lives in a rundown shack on a piece of property they call The Pit with her three brothers and her father. Their mother died seven years ago giving birth to the youngest son, Junior. The father is an absent alcoholic who is often angry and drunk. The siblings are close and have pretty much raised their little brother Junior and themselves.
Esch discovers very early on in the book that she is pregnant by the boy she is in love with, one of her brother’s friends, Manny. He is definitely not in love with her and has a girlfriend and Esch is heartbroken about it. I felt so bad for her, being a poor, lonely, fourteen year old girl with a dead mother and low self esteem going through the devastating news she’s pregnant alone.
There were a lot of times in the book where I really wished I could look away but couldn't. There are some bad dog fighting scenes. Skeeter, the oldest brother has a pit bull named China that he enters in brutal dog fighting contests. He loves this dog more than anything and I could not believe he would put her through such a thing. China has just had puppies and Skeeter spends all his time taking care of her and the newborn puppies. China is a big part of the story.
Near the end of the book, Hurricane Katrina arrives, bringing complete destruction and devastation. The family barely survives. The author gives us a very up close and personal look at what the victims of hurricane Katrina had to go through.
Ward’s writing at times was very poetic: “His skin was the color of fresh-cut wood at the heart of a pine tree.” “The terrible truth of what I am flares like a dry fall fire in my stomach, eating all the fallen pine needles.” “The sky burst to color above us, and then the sun sank through the trees so that the color ran out of the sky like water out of a drain and left the sky bleached white to navy to dark.” “To give life is to know what’s worth fighting for. And what’s love.” There were some lovely passages.
Parts of the book were a little difficult to read and when the book ends you don’t quite know the fate of everyone. Overall, it was a very good book, just not for the faint of heart. ( )
  dawnlovesbooks | Oct 21, 2017 |
A moving and interesting story. I will be interested in reading this writer as she matures - I thought the writing had a lot of wonderful elements, but there were at least three similes per page which got very tiring, very quickly.

I think this would be a great book for middle schoolers to learn about katrina. And also similes. Although the teen pregnancy and dog fighting might keep it off many teacher's shelves ( )
  Abbey_Harlow | Oct 5, 2017 |
Brutal, beautiful and haunting. ( )
  FoxTribeMama | Aug 28, 2017 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Apr 20, 2017 |
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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.
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"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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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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