Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward


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Winner of the National Book Award

Jesmyn Ward, two-time National Book Award winner and author of Sing, Unburied, Sing, delivers a gritty but tender novel about family and poverty in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608196265
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 04/24/2012
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 25,530
Product dimensions: 5.58(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She is the editor of the anthology The Fire This Time and the author of the memoir Men We Reaped and the novels Where the Line Bleeds and National Book Award-winning Sing, Unburied, Sing. A 2017 MacArthur Fellow in Fiction, Ward lives in DeLisle, Mississippi.

Read an Excerpt


a novel

Bloomsbury USA

Copyright © 2011 Jesmyn Ward
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-522-0

Chapter One


China's turned on herself. If I didn't know, I would think she was trying to eat her paws. I would think that she was crazy. Which she is, in a way. Won't let nobody touch her but Skeet. When she was a big-headed pit bull puppy, she stole all the shoes in the house, all our black tennis shoes Mama bought because they hide dirt and hold up until they're beaten soft. Only Mama's forgotten sandals, thin-heeled and tinted pink with so much red mud seeped into them, looked different. China hid them all under furniture, behind the toilet, stacked them in piles and slept on them. When the dog was old enough to run and trip down the steps on her own, she took the shoes outside, put them in shallow ditches under the house. She'd stand rigid as a pine when we tried to take them away from her. Now China is giving like she once took away, bestowing where she once stole. She is birthing puppies.

What China is doing is nothing like what Mama did when she had my youngest brother, Junior. Mama gave birth in the house she bore all of us in, here in this gap in the woods her father cleared and built on that we now call the Pit. Me, the only girl and the youngest at eight, was of no help, although Daddy said she told him she didn't need any help. Daddy said that Randall and Skeetah and me came fast, that Mama had all of us in her bed, under her own bare burning bulb, so when it was time for Junior, she thought she could do the same. It didn't work that way. Mama squatted, screamed toward the end. Junior came out purple and blue as a hydrangea: Mama's last flower. She touched Junior just like that when Daddy held him over her: lightly with her fingertips, like she was afraid she'd knock the pollen from him, spoil the bloom. She said she didn't want to go to the hospital. Daddy dragged her from the bed to his truck, trailing her blood, and we never saw her again.

What China is doing is fighting, like she was born to do. Fight our shoes, fight other dogs, fight these puppies that are reaching for the outside, blind and wet. China's sweating and the boys are gleaming, and I can see Daddy through the window of the shed, his face shining like the flash of a fish under the water when the sun hit. It's quiet. Heavy. Feels like it should be raining, but it isn't. There are no stars, and the bare bulbs of the Pit burn.

"Get out the doorway. You making her nervous." Skeetah is Daddy's copy: dark, short, and lean. His body knotted with ropy muscles. He is the second child, sixteen, but he is the first for China. She only has eyes for him.

"She ain't studying us," Randall says. He is the oldest, seventeen. Taller than Daddy, but just as dark. He has narrow shoulders and eyes that look like they want to jump out of his head. People at school think he's a nerd, but when he's on the basketball court, he moves like a rabbit, all quick grace and long haunches. When Daddy is hunting, I always cheer for the rabbit.

"She need room to breathe." Skeetah's hands slide over her fur, and he leans in to listen to her belly. "She gotta relax."

"Ain't nothing about her relaxed." Randall is standing at the side of the open doorway, holding the sheet that Skeetah has nailed up for a door. For the past week, Skeetah has been sleeping in the shed, waiting for the birth. Every night, I waited until he cut the light off , until I knew he was asleep, and I walked out of the back door to the shed, stood where I am standing now, to check on him. Every time, I found him asleep, his chest to her back. He curled around China like a fingernail around flesh.

"I want to see." Junior is hugging Randall's legs, leaning in to see but without the courage to stick in more than his nose. China usually ignores the rest of us, and Junior usually ignores her. But he is seven, and he is curious. When the boy from Germaine bought his male pit bull to the Pit to mate with China three months ago, Junior squatted on an oil drum above the makeshift kennel, an old disconnected truck bed dug in the earth with chicken wire stretched over it, and watched. When the dogs got stuck, he circled his face with his arms, but still refused to move when I yelled at him to go in the house. He sucked on his arm and played with the dangling skin of his ear, like he does when he watches television, or before he falls to sleep. I asked him once why he does it, and all he would say is that it sounds like water.

Skeetah ignores Junior because he is focused on China like a man focuses on a woman when he feels that she is his, which China is. Randall doesn't say anything but stretches his hand across the door to block Junior from entering.

"No, Junior." I put out my leg to complete the gate barring Junior from the dog, from the yellow string of mucus pooling to a puddle on the floor under China's rear.

"Let him see," Daddy says. "He old enough to know about that." His is a voice in the darkness, orbiting the shed. He has a hammer in one hand, a clutch of nails in another. China hates him. I relax, but Randall doesn't move and neither does Junior. Daddy spins away from us like a comet into the darkness. There is the sound of hammer hitting metal.

"He makes her tense," Skeetah says.

"Maybe you need to help her push," I say. Sometime I think that is what killed Mama. I can see her, chin to chest, straining to push Junior out, and Junior snagging on her insides, grabbing hold of what he caught on to try to stay inside her, but instead he pulled it out with him when he was born.

"She don't need no help pushing."

And China doesn't. Her sides ripple. She snarls, her mouth a black line. Her eyes are red; the mucus runs pink. Everything about China tenses and there are a million marbles under her skin, and then she seems to be turning herself inside out. At her opening, I see a purplish red bulb. China is blooming.

If one of Daddy's drinking buddies had asked what he's doing to night, he would've told them he's fixing up for the hurricane. It's summer, and when it's summer, there's always a hurricane coming or leaving here. Each pushes its way through the flat Gulf to the twenty-six-mile manmade Mississippi beach, where they knock against the old summer mansions with their slave galleys turned guest houses before running over the bayou, through the pines, to lose wind, drip rain, and die in the north. Most don't even hit us head-on anymore; most turn right to Florida or take a left for Texas, brush past and glance off us like a shirtsleeve. We ain't had one come straight for us in years, time enough to forget how many jugs of water we need to fill, how many cans of sardines and potted meat we should stock, how many tubs of water we need. But on the radio that Daddy keeps playing in his parked truck, I heard them talking about it earlier today. How the forecasters said the tenth tropical depression had just dissipated in the Gulf but another one seems to be forming around Puerto Rico.

So today Daddy woke me up by hitting the wall outside me and Junior's room.

"Wake up! We got work to do."

Junior rolled over in his bed and curled into the wall. I sat up long enough to make Daddy think I was going to get up, and then I lay back down and drifted off . When I woke up two hours later, Daddy's radio was running in his truck. Junior's bed was empty, his blanket on the floor.

"Junior, get the rest of them shine jugs."

"Daddy, ain't none under the house."

Outside the window, Daddy jabbed at the belly of the house with his can of beer. Junior tugged his shorts. Daddy gestured again, and Junior squatted and slithered under the house. The underside of the house didn't scare him like it had always scared me when I was little. Junior disappeared between the cinder blocks holding up the house for afternoons, and would only come out when Skeetah threatened to send China under there after him. I asked Junior one time what he did under there, and all he would say is that he played. I imagined him digging sleeping holes like a dog would, laying on his back in the sandy red dirt and listening to our feet slide and push across floorboards.

Junior had a good arm, and bottles and cans rolled out from under the house like pool balls. They stopped when they hit the rusted-over cow bath Daddy had salvaged from the junkyard where he scraps metal. He'd brought it home for Junior's birthday last year and told him to use it as a swimming pool.

"Shoot," Randall said. He was sitting on a chair under his homemade basketball goal, a rim he'd stolen from the county park and screwed into the trunk of a dead pine tree.

"Ain't nothing hit us in years. They don't come this way no more. When I was little, they was always hitting us." It was Manny. I stood at the edge of the bedroom window, not wanting him to see me. Manny threw a basketball from hand to hand. Seeing him broke the cocoon of my rib cage, and my heart unfurled to fly.

"You act like you ancient—you only two years older than me. Like I don't remember how they used to be," Randall said as he caught the rebound and passed it back to Manny. "If anything hit us this summer, it's going to blow down a few branches. News don't know what they talking about." Manny had black curly hair, black eyes, and white teeth, and his skin was the color of fresh-cut wood at the heart of a pine tree. "Every-time somebody in Bois Sauvage get arrested, they always get the story wrong."

"That's journalists. Weatherman's a scientist," Randall said.

"He ain't shit." From where I was, Manny looked like he was blushing, but I knew his face had broken out, tinged him red, and that the rest of it was the scar on his face.

"Oh, one's coming all right." Daddy wiped his hand along the side of his truck.

Manny rolled his eyes and jerked his thumb at Daddy. He shot. Randall caught the ball and held it. "There ain't even a tropical depression yet," Randall said to Daddy, "and you got Junior bowling with shine bottles."

Randall was right. Daddy usually filled a few jugs of water. Canned goods was the only kind of groceries Daddy knew how to make, so we were never short on Vienna sausages and potted meat. We ate Top Ramen every day: soupy, added hot dogs, drained the juice so it was spicy pasta; dry, it tasted like crackers. The last time we'd had a bad storm hit head-on, Mama was alive; after the storm, she'd barbecued all the meat left in the silent freezer so it wouldn't spoil, and Skeetah ate so many hot sausage links he got sick. Randall and I had fought over the last pork chop, and Mama had pulled us apart while Daddy laughed about it, saying: She can hold her own. Told you she was going to be a little scrappy scrawny thing—built just like you.

"This year's different," Daddy said as he sat on the back of his trunk. For a moment he looked not-drunk. "News is right: every week it's a new storm. Ain't never been this bad." Manny shot again, and Randall chased the ball.

"Makes my bones hurt," Daddy said. "I can feel them coming."

I pulled my hair back in a ponytail. It was my one good thing, my odd thing, like a Doberman come out white: corkscrew curls, black, limp when wet but full as fistfuls of frayed rope when dry. Mama used to let me run around with it down, said it was some throwback trait, and since I got it, I might as well enjoy it. But I looked in the mirror and knew the rest of me wasn't so remarkable: wide nose, dark skin, Mama's slim, short frame with all the curves folded in so that I looked square. I changed my shirt and listened to them talking outside. The walls, thin and uninsulated, peeling from each other at the seams, made me feel like Manny could see me before I even stepped outside. Our high school English teacher, Ms. Dedeaux, gives us reading every summer. After my ninth-grade year, we read As I Lay Dying, and I made an A because I answered the hardest question right: Why does the young boy think his mother is a fish? This summer, after tenth grade, we are reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology. The chapter I finished reading day before yesterday is called "Eight Brief Tales of Lovers," and it leads into the story of Jason and the Argonauts. I wondered if Medea felt this way before she walked out to meet Jason for the first time, like a hard wind come through her and set her to shaking. The insects singing as they ring the red dirt yard, the bouncing ball, Daddy's blues coming from his truck radio, they all called me out the door.

China buries her face between her paws with her tail end in the air before the last push for the first puppy. She looks like she wants to flip over into a headstand, and I want to laugh, but I don't. Blood oozes from her, and Skeetah crouches even closer to help her. China yanks her head up, and her eyes snap open along with her teeth. "Careful!" Randall says. Skeetah has startled her. He lays his hands on her and she rises. I went to my daddy's Methodist church one time with my mama, even though she raised us Catholic, and this is what China moves like; like she has caught the ghost, like the holiest voice moves through her instead of Skeetah's. I wonder if her body feels like it is in the grip of one giant hand that wrings her empty.

"I see it!" Junior squeals.

The first puppy is big. It opens her and slides out in a stream of pink slime. Skeetah catches it, places it to the side on a pile of thin, ripped towels he has prepared. He wipes it.

"Orange, like his daddy," Skeetah says. "This one's going to be a killer."

The puppy is almost orange. He is really the color of the red earth after someone has dug in it to plant a field or pull up stones or put in a body. It is Mississippi red. The daddy was that color: he was short and looked like a big red muscle. He had chunks of skin and flesh crusted over to scabby sores from fighting. When he and China had sex, there was blood on their jaws, on her coat, and instead of loving, it looked like they were fighting. China's skin is rippling like wind over water. The second puppy slides halfway out feet-first and hangs there.

"Skeet," Junior squeaks. He has one eye and his nose pressed against Randall's leg, which he is hugging. He seems very dark and very small, and in the night gloom, I cannot see the color of his clothes.

Skeetah grabs the puppy's rear, and his hand covers the entire torso. He pulls. China growls, and the puppy slides clear. He is pink. When Skeetah lays him on the mat and wipes him off , he is white with tiny black spots like watermelon seeds spit across his fur. His tongue protrudes through the tiny slit that is his mouth, and he looks like a flat cartoon dog. He is dead. Skeetah lets go of the towel and the puppy rolls, stiff as a bowling pin, across the padding to rest lightly against the red puppy, which is moving its legs in small fits, like blinks.

"Shit, China." Skeetah breathes. Another puppy is coming. This one slowly slides out headfirst; a lonely, hesitant diver. Big Henry, one of Randall's friends, dives into the water at the river like that every time we go swimming: heavy and carefully, as if he is afraid his big body, with its whorls of muscle and fat, will hurt the water. And every time Big Henry does so, the other boys laugh at him. Manny is always the loudest of them all: his teeth white knives, his face golden red. The puppy lands in the cup of Skeetah's palms. She is a patchwork of white and brown. She is moving, her head bobbing in imitation of her mother's. Skeetah cleans the puppy. He kneels behind China, who growls. Yelps. Splits.

Even though Daddy's truck was parked right beyond the front door and Junior hit me in my calf with a shine bottle, I looked at Manny first. He was holding the ball like an egg, with his fingertips, the way Randall says a good ball handler does. Manny could dribble on rocks. I had seen him in the rocky sand at the corner of the basketball court down at the park, him and Randall, dribbling and defending, dribbling and defending. The rocks made the ball ricochet between their legs like a rubber paddleball, unpredictable and wild, but they were so good they caught to dribble again nearly every time. They'd fall before they'd let the ball escape, dive to be cut by shells and small gray stones. Manny was holding the ball as tenderly as he would a pit puppy with pedigree papers. I wanted him to touch me that way.


Excerpted from SALVAGE THE BONES by JESMYN WARD Copyright © 2011 by Jesmyn Ward. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Salvage the Bones 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 112 reviews.
jm248 More than 1 year ago
The writing is well done - no equivocations there.  Jesmyn Ward is masterful in her storytelling.   BUT, if you, like me, cannot stomach stories in which bad things happen to dogs, do not read this book.  Aside from the dog fighting, if I never hear another story about the dogs that people failed to adequately care for during Katrina, I'd be glad for it.  Maybe it's the state of the world, but I prefer my fiction without sad and mistreated dogs.      
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wrote a longer review for this book on my nook before accidently clicking away from the screen and losing it, so I'm not going to re-write the long review this book truly deserves. Instead, to keep it short and sweet, I'll just say this book is beautiful, the characters exceptional, the plot tense but slow enough to savor, and the climax equal parts distressing and hopeful. I finished this book several days ago (read it in one sitting) and it has still stuck with me so do yourself a favor and read this book.
SecretK More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Not to be cliche, but this author has a way with words and has a very poetic style. She provides great imagery and descriptions where other authors would have taken an easier route to say "the sky was blue". This is what separates her book from a piece of fiction and makes hers a piece of fiction literature. How she tells the story is great, but the story she tells is even greater. I fell in love with and felt empathetic for the characters in the story. Although we only spent 12 days with them, what we learned about them and their struggles, their victories, and how they constantly overcome defeat, covered more than 12 days. I liked how the author gave each character equal time in the light. Even China and her puppies were well developed characters and I felt they were significant to the plot. What I thought about most when reading this story was that these chracters were very young, all still teens, yet they were acting like adults and taking on adult roles because they had to. Yes, they were making some bad choices along the way but who was there to guide them to make better ones? Although they were good at protecting Jr they didn't understand him and thought he was being weird or boisterous when in fact he was being a normal young kid. Sadly, many kids today are in similar situations. Kids raising kids because while the parents are physically there they are still absent. Finally, I know all too well the aftermath of Katrina. The descriptions were very realistic. The author was spot on with this one. I look forward to future work from Ms. Ward.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
There is a moment in the beginning of this book when I want to put the book down (the birthing of puppies). There is a point in the middle when I breathe raggedly, as though from a gut punch (Ward’s description of the dog fight). And there are long stretches at the end of this book when I cannot take my horrified eyes from the page, when I feel my insides crumbling and my heart breaking and my memories reeling and I know I have read something extraordinary. Jesmyn Ward just gives us words, but words like none other has written. She has put them together in a way that creates a world apart but with all the love, pain, pathos, hope, fear, and loyalty that we will recognize from the finest examples of our literature. When she describes the color and texture of a man’s arm, or the watery pressure of a new pregnancy, or the terror of discovering rising water through the floorboards of one’s living room, Jesmyn Ward has caught that thing as though it were alive. When I try to say in a few words the story of this novel, everything I write is inadequate. A poor family lives outside a town but near the coast in Mississippi. Our narrator is fourteen with hair that frames her head “like a pillow.” She has three brothers, a father that drinks too much, and several paramours but one in particular. Katrina hits and we experience the storm. This is classic literature, and, difficult as it may seem at first, wholly appropriate for teens. It is a little like saying A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is a teen title. That book, about a teen forced into soldiering in Sierra Leone, is similarly hard-hitting. It might be better for our teens to know than not to know. They are exposed to so much anyway--a little reality might improve their outlook. I wouldn't "require" this novel, but I would add it to reading lists. Teens can do much worse than experience the exquisite sense of language in this wholly original work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book must have been about a book report because 98% of the so called reviews read like school book reports. Bn, when are you ever going to do something to these ppl that constantly ruin books for other readers by revealing every detail of the book? It is rude and inconsiderate. They should be fined, and banned and their posts deleted.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
'Salvage the Bones' is Somber Following Hurricane Katrina, a slew of books about it came out in quick succession over the course of a year or two. It was a “popular” topic and I avoided every single one. I try not to read books that are written by authors who are attempting to capitalize on a catastrophic event while the event is still unfolding. There’s a big difference between historical fiction and riding that wave. So, even though it’s 8 years later, I was hesitant to read this book. I’m not sure where I first saw it, but it had a good review and one of the things that jumped out at me what that the reviewer went out of their way to say that while this was a book that took place during Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane is a backdrop and in no way dictates the story. Basically, it could have been any number of hurricanes or rainstorms down in the bayou, and that the author was not attempting to profit from a sensational story about tragedy. Let me just say that I flew through this book and the writer of that review (thanks to whoever you are) was entirely correct. Hurricane Katrina set the tone for the book, but did not propel the story on its own. Instead, the book takes place over 12 days, with each chapter representing a day and beginning the day Hurricane Katrina formed while ending after she makes landfall.The story itself is about the Batiste family, who live in fictional Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Poor and living in the Pit, Esche and her three brothers struggle with day to day life 9 years after the death of their mother. While Esche is coming to terms with her own personal problems, her brother Skeetah is trying to take care of the new puppies his prized fighter pit bull, China, gave birth to. Meanwhile, Randall is trying to win a scholarship to basketball camp and Junior, the baby of the family, is just trying to keep up and not be left behind. I love that the author gives the reader a glimpse into the daily lives of a poverty-stricken family without evoking pity. Instead, their financial situation is simply a way of life and not something that they focus on or complain about. I must point out that dogfighting is a big part of this book and that Chapter 8 was some of the most intense and difficult reading I have ever read (they also eat a shark, which I’m sure bothers me more than most people because I’m a huge shark conservationist). Despite these difficulties, it is a great book. It’s not a sunshine and rainbows book, but I think it has widespread appeal. The writing style, which is similar to Precious, Room, and The Help, is not one I typically enjoy. In fact, I haven’t read any of the books I just mentioned because I can’t get through the first chapter. BUT, I was able to get through this one with flying colors and I think it’s a great read for anyone who is interested in the the region.
gcdowell More than 1 year ago
The best book I have read in years, and among my top 5 ever.  (For your reference, I would include the following in my top 5 (not necessarily in order) so you can judge hether my tastes are similar to yours:   A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving;  ; The Things They Carried by O'Brien; Watership Down by Richard Adams; Pretty much anything by Faulkner.
slippery72 More than 1 year ago
Having been to New Orleans to work on Hurricane Katrina's devastating damage, I was drawn to this book. I wasn't sure at first that I really liked the slow moving style of the book. However, it did mirror the travel of a hurricane! And after I finished, I did basically like the book as it really showed how many people in that area just truly did not think the destruction would be so massive. The author really showed the life of this dysfunctional family, but how they were drawn together during this time. What I did not like was all the descriptive language in the book....the similes and metaphors were TOTALLY overdone and there were many times I wanted to ditch the book and not finish it. However, I AM glad I stuck it out...just reader beware...found myself at times just skimming these sections!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't remember how i heard about this book but i am a different person because of it. Please, read this book with an open heart. The first person narration was a brilliant decision by the author. It took me into the narrators world where i lived for the duration of the novel. The narrator is an innocent but obviously intelligent child. Another reviewer called her promiscuous. Open your heart and mind and see life thru this child's eyes.
PoppyWade More than 1 year ago
A lullaby. It's horrifying in a dreamlike way that haunts and chills. I'm almost angry at Jesmyn for setting the bar so high, now that every other book feels flat and lame. Excellent, excellent, excellent.
Anonymous 6 months ago
opens your eyes. leaves you with a feeling that you've experienced something important. a great read.
EBT1002 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel is not about Katrina, but it's set in a coastal Mississippi during the days leading up to Katrina. It's about a family living in the wretched grip of deep poverty, and their fierce love, unflinching loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice for one another. Fifteen-year-old Esch and her three brothers live with their heavy-drinking, competent, stubborn, and under-resourced father. Randall, the oldest, wants to be a basketball start. Skeetah, the next in line, has a pit dog named China (and China has puppies), and Junior, the little one, is just there for and with everyone. Their mother died when he was born and her presence continues to permeate the family culture. Oh, and Esch is pregnant. As they prepare for yet another hurricane (and we know it's going to be a doozy long before they know it), we witness their efforts to scratch out a living. Optimism and hope aren't even part of the conversation (although there is a shared commitment to helping Randall get to basketball camp). The dog fight scene about halfway through left my stomach sour and my teeth on edge. It was one of the most painful chapters of a novel that I've ever read. But the story is so beautiful and the writing is exquisite. Describing the dead mother's reaction to catching a shark on a fishing trip: "She coaxed it to death. And when it gave up, she hauled it in and let out a laugh that swooped up into the sky with the pelicans and flew away, wind-ready and wide as their wings." Or describing the woods: "A cloud passes over the sun, and it is dark under the trees. It passes, and the gold melts through the leaves, falls on bark and floor: foil coins." Nice. If you can manage the vivid description of the dog fight, I highly recommend this moving and powerful novel of family and survival.
lauras67 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first few pages had me doubting that I would like this book; but I stuck with it and after awhile I was hooked!I thought the author did a good job with the character development.... considering the entire span of the book just covered the 12 days before Katrina hit. They were real enough to me that I felt so many different emotions as I read about their day to day lives. There are parts that are brutal and it was almost painful to read at times - but yet I was so sucked into it..... I couldn't stop. It was like the intensity of the story increased as Katrina came closer and closer.There were many times throughout the book that I wanted to knock some sense into the various characters for their behavior and actions, but in the end the family members pulled together and did what was necessary to help each other survive. It's difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to live in their shoes.... the extreme poverty, the lack of parental involvement, etc. Some of the things they did just to survive and entertain themselves were shocking.There was no sugar coating in this book..... it was raw, gritty, brutal and real and it certainly captured my attention!
nivramkoorb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found it interesting that the most negative reviews for this novel have come from people that have trouble with the subject matter. It is as if the only books they want to read are pleasant subjects etc. Reviews should be more about the writing than the subject matter. In this case, I found this story well written. I felt this because of her great descriptions of the heat, the bugs, the dirt, etc. You really understand teenage pregnancy after reading this account. Even the petty crime that was committed made sense in the context of the characters' lives. Overall it was an excellent book. It dragged a little in the middle but ended up well. I will try and get hold of the her first book.
brenzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A hurricane is building over the Gulf but the poor, hardscrabble residents of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi have seen it all before so they know what to expect. The only difference this time is the name: Katrina and she¿s barreling towards them like a speeding freight train. Much like the pregnancy growing inside fourteen year old Esch, that consumes pretty much her every thought and keeps bringing to mind her favorite Greek myth about doomed lovers Medea and Jason. And this is Esch¿s story to tell. Her older brother Randall, is hoping desperately for a look from basketball scouts that would assure him a college education and her younger brother Skeetah¿s main devotion is to his fighting dog China and her newborn pups, and six year old Junior was last born and all that remains of his mother¿s pregnancy, as she died shortly after his birth. Thoughts of their beloved mother are never far from their thoughts as she is missed terribly. Their father vacillates between drunkenness and anger and provides little to no fathering to his brood. Ward manages to vacillate between grittiness and soulfulness. And brilliantly the narrative fluctuates between thoughtful reflection and driving momentum until the hurricane passes. The prose is poetic but the subject matter, for the most part, is stark and unsentimental. Esch longs for the father of her unborn child, Manny, to love her and dreams of a loving relationship with him but knows, in reality, that will never happen. Randall sees his dreams of a basketball scholarship go up in smoke and Skeetah realizes his chances of having half a dozen pups to sell are diminishing by the minute and he foolishly forces the lactating China to fight. This might be a good time to mention that if you¿re squeamish about dog fighting you might want to skip this book. I¿m a dog lover and I thought the depiction of China killing her own pup was more disturbing than the dogs fighting, but for others the dog fighting might be too distasteful.But although this is a book of metaphors and hidden meanings it can certainly be enjoyed on the surface, for what it is: a story about poverty in the rural south during the time of a devastating hurricane. The themes of the nearness of death and the love of brothers are powerful indeed and are presented with distinct aplomb. And the devastation of Katrina will not be forgotten.¿I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.¿Highly recommended.
mcelhra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fifteen year old Esch just found she¿s pregnant. She keeps this secret to herself while watching her brother Skeetah take care of his prize dog-fighting pit bull China, who just had puppies. Her oldest brother Randall struggles to take care of the family while their alcoholic father tries to prepare for a coming hurricane. Their mother died giving birth to their youngest brother Junior and the family¿s life in rural Mississippi has been extra hard ever since.This book was beautiful and raw, both uplifting and upsetting. It was a wonderful story about survival in the midst of poverty and adversity. Every character is really well-developed. I was both sympathetic to and frustrated with most of them at one time or the other. This novel is told in the first person by Esch and takes place over the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. As the storm grows closer, the tension builds. The descriptions are so vivid; it felt like I was there with them. I could not put this book down for the last two chapters as the storm grew closer.I¿m not the only who loved this book ¿ it¿s a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction this year. (Winners will be announced November 16.)
wilsonknut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this because it was included in the Tournament of Books 2012. I enjoyed the book as a whole. Most stories involving Hurricane Katrina focuses on New Orleans, but Ward is unique in that she takes the reader into the rural poverty stricken areas. There were parts of the book that Ward could have done a little more research on. For example, she doesn't know how a tractor actually works, and the physical actions of the characters during the flood were not quite realistic.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Extremely brutal and gritty, but such a celebration of what a family is and how a family takes care of each other in less than ideal situations. Their mother dead, their father a drunk, the four siblings do their best to raise themselves and take care of each other. Their fighting pitbull China, is the focus of much of their attention as she has puppies that need to be tended to. The hurricane is coming, they are trying to stock food and water, and the tension mounts. When the hurricane comes, much is lost but the book ends on a note of hope, hope for a better tomorrow.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't say I wasn't warned. Many reviews about Salvage The Bones advised animal lovers not to read this book because of its dog fighting theme. Yes, I was warned, but I wanted to read it anyway. Set in the American South at the brink of Hurricane Katrina, the story was right in my wheelhouse. I figured I could skip the dog fighting scenes - and I did, but it wasn't enough.Why? Simply put - it wasn't just about the dog fighting scenes or the breeding of pit bull puppies to be fighters (though both incidents are frightful enough). My issue is this:  I never got the sense that Jesmyn Ward was condemning dog fighting. I couldn't find an underlying message that spoke against this cruelty.I am assuming Ward included dog fighting in Salvage The Bones because it's a popular past time in certain pockets of the American South. But the animal lover in me wonders what's the point. Did it strengthen the story? Make the family's plight more deplorable? I don't think it did. And with the absence of a strong message that condemns dog fighting, I wonder why you need it.Now don't get me wrong. I am sure Jesmyn Ward isn't for dog fighting. I just wish she made dog fighting an allegorical theme.The rest of the book was good. The characters were complex and believable. Their lives of poverty were startling. The effects of Katrina were devastating. Yes, everything else about Salvage The Bones was spot on. But the dog fighting was too much for me.So, heed my warning. Don't read this book if you hate dog fighting, if you are against breeding dogs to fight and are tired of pit bulls being used in this manner. Salvage The Bones will not be the book for you - just like it wasn't the book for me.
Moppette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Salvage the Bones is a book that drew me in by the subject matter of a poor family leading up to and after hurricane Katrina. I found the narrator to be honest in her reality of being a fourteen year old pregnant girl. The family represented in the book was not so well drawn out seeming very two dimensional in their quests for drink, attention, and dog fighting. The writing at times was very lyrical but I found myself struggling to finish the book due to lack of characterization and subject matter. When Katrina did strike in the novel I did not care if the characters survived or not.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes. ¿ from Salvage the Bones -Esch is fourteen and pregnant, living with her brothers and her father on a hardscrabble piece of land they call ¿The Pit¿ in the small, coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Left motherless when their mother died giving birth to Junior, who is now seven years old, the siblings are fiercely loyal to each other. Skeetah, devoted to his fighting dog, China, is determined to stand up to their father ¿ a man who has been mostly absent and drunk, and can become volatile and abusive.He reaches to grab Skeetah¿s arm, to pull him to standing and then shove him, probably. This is what he does when he wants to manhandle, humiliate; he pulls one of us toward him, shakes, and then shoves us hard backward so that we fall in the dirt. So that we sprawl like toddlers learning to walk: dirt on our faces and our hands, faces wet with crying or mucus, ashamed. ¿ from Salvage the Bones -Randall, the eldest boy, longs to find his way out of The Pit through his skill as a basketball player. Junior, too young to fully understand the family dynamics, clings to Randall. Junior¿s innocence, his childish body and desperate longing for attention, are heartbreaking.Sometimes I wonder if Junior remembers anything, or if his head is like a colander, and the memories of who bottle-fed him, who licked his tears, who mothered him, squeeze through the metal like water to run down the drain, and only leave the present day, his sand holes, his shirtless bird chest, Randall yelling at him: his present washed clean of memory like vegetables washed clean of the dirt they grow in. ¿ from Salvage the Bones -Salvage the Bones is narrated in the observant voice of Esch in the ten days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, culminating in the storm and its aftermath. The novel opens with the birth of China¿s puppies ¿ creatures which represent money and prestige to Skeetah. As with all the characters in the book, the puppies are born into a world which challenges their very survival¿and China, muscular and bred to fight, is far from a competent mother.What China is doing is fighting, like she was born to do. Fight our shoes, fight other dogs, fight these puppies that are reaching for the outside, blind and wet. ¿ from Salvage the Bones -Jesmyn Ward¿s writing is breathtaking, raw and completely honest. She portrays a family who is somehow surviving against all odds ¿ ragtag, poor, and with only each other to depend upon. China takes center stage in a novel about determination and fighting for one¿s life. She is sleek, muscular and focused. China¿s heart belongs only to Skeetah, a young boy who has mastered a brutish beast with a penchant for killing. China¿s presence is both a representation of loyalty and love, and a sinister threat ¿ the siblings constantly admonish Junior to stay away from her, she is not allowed in the house, and Randall (a fit and toned athlete) is frightened of her. Against the backdrop of China is the myth of Medea. Esch is reading Medea¿s story and the themes of betrayal, suffering, and injured love are strong in the novel. In the Greek play, Medea seeks vengeance against the father of her children when he betrays her love. Medea¿s jealously is violent and murderous ¿ and her story weaves in and out of Salv
ofgr8value on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Not to be cliche, but this author has a way with words and has a very poetic style. She provides great imagery and descriptions where other authors would have taken an easier route to say "the sky was blue". This is what separates her book from a piece of fiction and makes hers a piece of fiction literature. How she tells the story is great, but the story she tells is even greater. I fell in love with and felt empathetic for the characters in the story. Although we only spent 12 days with them, what we learned about them and their struggles, their victories, and how they constantly overcome defeat, covered more than 12 days. I liked how the author gave each character equal time in the light. Even China and her puppies were well developed characters and I felt they were significant to the plot. What I thought about most when reading this story was that these chracters were very young, all still teens, yet they were acting like adults and taking on adult roles because they had to. Yes, they were making some bad choices along the way but who was there to guide them to make better ones? Although they were good at protecting Jr they didn't understand him and thought he was being weird or boisterous when in fact he was being a normal young kid. Sadly, many kids today are in similar situations. Kids raising kids because while the parents are physically there they are still absent. Finally, I know all too well the aftermath of Katrina. The descriptions were very realistic. The author was spot on with this one. I look forward to future work from Ms. Ward.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are some real poetic words of beauty and reflection amidst severe poverty and abuse in this novel. However, overall, it is a pretty grim look at poor choices people continue to make, and how it affects their lives, and just keeps continuing through generations. The protagonist is Esch, a 15-year-old pregnant girl who with very little emotion, has sex with all the neighborhood boys because "it's easier than not." There is one boy, Manny, she claims she loves, and that apparently is the father to her child. He is a big jerk and her brother's "best friend." The unreality is that Esch claims that she is so close to her brothers, Skeetah, Randall and Junior, but everyone knows this is going on and ignores it. The Father is a drunken mess who borders on abusive, but is mostly just pathetic and useless. The other core element is the rural world of Pit Bull fighting and Skeetah's relationship with his fighting dog, China, who gives birth to a litter of pups at the beginning of the novel. We are supposed to see that he has a love "like no other" for his dog (and this goes on and on and on - the love being compared to mythology, other people, etc.), yet he abuses her almost non stop to get her to "mind him" and "not forget." His desire is to make sure the pups don't die because they are worth $200 a piece. He fights China, even right after giving birth, to prove God knows what. That she is the toughest of all tough dogs? I guess it is a powerplay by the powerless, but it got really old. I see this all around in humane association work and it shed no new light on the problem, other than it destroys a lot of animals. It is merely thugs trying to look cool with their fighting dogs and make money off the puppies. I don't know, this novel did not work for me, although it was an easy, rather repetitive read. It had a drone-like quality. Apparently, this is also a book about hurricane Katrina, but that is tacked on at the end of the book and there is nothing much said there, other than people did not believe it was happening. And then it happend.
reluctantm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I felt torn reading this novel. On one hand, the writing is lyrical, ebbing and flowing, twisting around. But on the other hand, there is a distance between the characters and the reader that sometimes seems insurmountable. Other than the narrator, I felt completely disconnected to the other characters. They often appear more as cardboard cut-outs than people. By the end of the novel, I didn't feel like I had any emotional connection with these people. Having already set the book down, I can barely remember their names, what happens to them throughout the book. In a visceral situation as described in the book, I felt I needed a visceral reaction to the characters. Instead I feel detached from the entire situation.The voice of the protagonist is muddled. She is supposed to be a teenager but often it seems as if she is much younger. But then she'll think something so achingly beautiful that her mental age seems to skyrocket. It's unsettling since the voice isn't consistent. This novel is fairly depressing. Essentially, twelve days and nothing good happens to anyone. Maybe there's a tiny glimmer of hope at the end but it is a bit of a struggle to read a piece where nothing good ever seems to happen to any of the characters.
loralu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was an interesting look into the life of a poverty-stricken family in the week leading up to Katrina and how they tried to prepare their home in Bois Sauvage. The author is local so I would hope (and yet not hope - you'll understand why when you read) that she's created these fictional characters based on the truth she saw living down here. It definitely puts in perspective the amount of things and people lost in the hurricane.