Salvage the Bones — Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward is a marvel. I am in awe of her ability to write devastating loss so beautifully. If you haven’t read her essay for Vanity Fair about the sudden death of her husband at the start of 2020, I can’t recommend it enough (just make sure you are up for a cry).

Salvage the Bones is about a poor African-American family living in rural Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina approaches. Teenaged Esch is the only girl in the family, looking after her brothers and alcoholic father.

Ward explores layers of violent shocks, physical and emotional, and the insecurity and resilience that produces. From the death of Esch’s mother, to her brother’s devotion to the pit bull he fights, to her unrequited love for a boy who doesn’t want to know, to the hurricane itself. Her world is both small and huge; beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.

For a book that is about big traumatic events, I found it heartbreaking without being heavy. I think it’s because I loved the main character, whose immense vulnerability is matched by a strength of character. All in all, it’s a dazzling and gripping read that I know I’ll come back to.

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