Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

76%

13 Critic Reviews

Ward, 34, accepted the National Book Award saying that she wanted to write about poor, black rural Southerners in such a way that the greater culture would see their stories — "our stories," she said — as universal. In this novel of dogfighting, unwanted pregnancy and poverty, she has done just that.
-LA Times

Synopsis

Winner of the 2011 National Book Award 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. While 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 comprise the novel's framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel's heart--motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce--pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bone is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
 

About Jesmyn Ward

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Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood awards for essays, drama, and fiction. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford, from 2008-2010, she has been named the 2010-11 Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.
 
Published August 30, 2011 by Bloomsbury USA. 272 pages
Genres: Other, Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Salvage the Bones
All: 13 | Positive: 10 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Excellent
on Nov 21 2011

...the fury of the storm yields a kind of redemption, a scenario that could dissolve into mawkishness, but that Ward pulls off without a false note. A superbly realized work of fiction that, while Southern to the bone, transcends its region to become universal.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on May 23 2011

Esch traces in the minutiae of every moment of every scene of her life the thin lines between passion and violence, love and hate, life and death...

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Parul Sehgal on Dec 30 2011

For all its fantastical underpinnings, “Salvage the Bones” is never wrong when it comes to suffering. Sorrow and pain aren’t presented as especially ennobling.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Olivia Laing on Dec 10 2011

Katrina, anyway, is not a subject that can be considered in small language, and nor, for that matter, are the problems of this small family, who face their maiming with such courage and grace.

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Star Tribune

Excellent
Reviewed by PAMELA MILLER on Dec 10 2011

Fiction though it is, this may be the best account you'll read of Hurricane Katrina. Ward draws much of her story, its tone a wise blend of detachment and ferocity, from her own hardscrabble experiences.

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AV Club

Below average
Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke on Sep 21 2011

Avoiding the sentimentality that might have lit stories like Esch’s in other accounts is a desirable goal, but Salvage The Bones’ accumulation of detail tips the scale on the side of wretchedness and takes with it the humanity of its protagonist.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Carolyn Kellogg on Dec 04 2011

Ward, 34, accepted the National Book Award saying that she wanted to write about poor, black rural Southerners in such a way that the greater culture would see their stories — "our stories," she said — as universal. In this novel of dogfighting, unwanted pregnancy and poverty, she has done just that.

Read Full Review of Salvage the Bones | See more reviews from LA Times

The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Sep 18 2013

Tea Obreht’s “The Tiger’s Wife” is an odds-on favorite for the National Book Award, partly because it’s the only well-known novel among the finalists, but “Salvage the Bones” has the aura of a classic about it.

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Dallas News

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth Hoover on Sep 02 2011

Esch also comes into her strength, and it’s captivating to watch her journey. Perhaps Esch is like Medea — not the murderer, but the sorceress. There is magic in Esch’s ability to not only survive her circumstances, but to speak about them with such clarity and depth.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Anthony Grooms on Sep 01 2011

Though poor, Ward’s characters strive to achieve dreams that might improve their lives. Though theirs is a violent and oppressive world, and in the end, they lose all of the little they have, this story is not fatalistic.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Above average
Reviewed by Joan Frank on Nov 27 2011

By the time the storm arrives, a reader might reasonably think she's braced for horror. She would be wrong. Ward orchestrates a power and scale so furious, so consuming - with an aftermath of such utter ruin - we can honestly feel, like the Batistes, we never saw it coming.

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Arts Sarasota

Above average
Reviewed by Susan Rife on May 17 2012

"Salvage the Bones" is not an easy book, with its poverty, adolescent sex and brutal dogfighting, to say nothing of the horrors of the hurricane itself. But Ward imbues the world of Esch and her family in a painful radiance, where the storm howls around them and yet a fine light still shines upon them.

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Access Atlanta

Good
Reviewed by Gina Webb on Nov 14 2011

By the time the storm hits and the water rises, we’re in a more universal place, where reality and myth meet, creating a timeless tale of a family that regains its humanity in the face of incalculable loss.

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Reader Rating for Salvage the Bones
77%

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