Nominated by:

Winnipeg Public Library, Canada

Jamaica Library Service, Kingston

Denver Public Library, USA

Kansas City Public Library, USA

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, USA

Multnomah County Library, Portland, USA

The Seattle Public Library, USA

Ferguson Library, Stamford, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Scribner, USA

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward      

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

About the author

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is the winner of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.

Librarians’ comments

Jojo is trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict but cannot put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. When the children’s father is released from prison, she packs the kids and travels to the State Penitentiary. There, a boy who carries all the history of the South, has something to teach Jojo about fathers, sons, legacies, violence and love. An epic tale of hope and struggle, the novel examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power and limitations of family bonds.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a compelling story of how unbearably painful and exquisitely beautiful family ties can be. A profound road novel dropped in the Deep South and confronting contemporary issues of race, poverty, the justice system and family tragedy. Prison, drugs, racism and love bind a Mississippi family.

The lives of ordinary people are transformed by Ward’s language. This book shows us the deep inner lives of those our culture has marginalized.

This stunningly good book examines the inherited trauma of black people in the American South, through the eyes of a boy on the cusp of manhood, a mother afflicted by drug addiction, and a ghost. Ward’s poetic cadence draws the reader into this family road trip cum ghost story, as 13-year-old Jojo and his mother Leonie navigate the legacies of racism and poverty as they seep from the past into the present.

A deeply affecting read. A mother takes her two children on a harrowing family road trip in which they are forced to face dormant memories and the ghosts who haunt them.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a captivating story of a broken family that is both incredibly beautiful and very sad.

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