Salvage the Bones: Book summary and reviews of Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones

A Novel

By Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2011,
    272 pages.

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About this book

Book Summary

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 fifteen 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, set in the lead-up to Hurricane Katrina, 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.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Awards, 2011

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [A] poetic second novel … [main character] 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 … her voice …[gives] its cast of small lives a huge resonance." - Publishers Weekly

"This looks both beautiful and heartbreaking and would be excellent for book clubs." - Library Journal

"Author Ward has an unfortunate tendency to overwrite, and this coming-of-age story tends at times to get lost in its style." - Booklist

"Powerful, tense, and absorbing; Jesmyn Ward develops the characters so well, and these people are survivors. The pacing is excellent—although you know the storm is coming, you are still consumed by the tension. And the writing of the storm scene is brilliant. I was in the water with them." - Louise Jones, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT

"I started reading at seven thirty Saturday morning, thinking I'd give myself an hour to read before doing the ever-mounting list of chores around the house … Four hours later I could not put it down until I finished! Reminds me of Daniel Woodrell, Flannery O'Connor, and others. What an authentic voice and what a beautiful writer." - Dawn Braasch, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven, MA

"It's a taut, powerful novel with characters that draw you wholly into a world that while alien to most readers is presented so compellingly that one feels a strong connection to Esch and her family's place and circumstance. Just like the hurricane that you know is coming, there is a palpable tension that moves the story forward and makes you want to hurry through, but at the same time, there are so many great sentences and turns of phrase that you feel you must slow down and savor the words on the page. I also really love the mythology references and the way they gel with the modern-day storyline." - Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi

"Jesmyn Ward is an extraordinary writer. While Salvage the Bones is not a pretty story, it is so well written and compelling that I had a hard time putting it down. Ms. Ward has a terrific ear for dialogue, and you meet characters not found in most other writing. I love Esch. She is smart and real, and her relationship with her siblings is beautifully rendered." - Korje Guttormsen, Books Inc., San Francisco, CA

"With Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward has written the best sort of novel—a beautiful, important book that's both unflinching and tender, heartbreaking and triumphant. A lyrical and riveting testament to the strength of the human spirit, as well as the power of family and community. Ward's paragraphs are like songs, lifting us even as the authenticity of this world and these characters keeps the ground in clear sight. This is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer." - Skip Horack, author of The Southern Cross and The Eden Hunter

"Jesmyn Ward writes like an angel with a knife to your throat, compelling you with exquisite language and a clear voice to go where she goes, to see what she sees. Salvage the Bones is at turns unsettling and uplifting—raw and honest as a dogfight, lyrical as a poem. It cuts through the clichés about poverty to arrive at a place of shocking recognition: that at the end of the day love and loyalty to family are all that sustain us." - Ken Wells, author of Meely LaBauve



"A fiercely beautiful portrait of lives caught quite literally in the maelstrom that was Hurricane Katrina. Salvage the Bones more than lives up to the promise so evident in Jesmyn Ward's much-praised first novel, Where the Line Bleeds. It surpasses that promise, and does so in one deft stride. Deeply felt and bristling with breathtaking imagery, Salvage the Bones will hold its readers utterly riveted to the very last page." - Travis Holland, author of The Archivist's Story

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Barbara
Unpleasant Novel
The book is written by a Stanford graduate whose narrator is a 14-year old black girl from a poverty stricken background. Though the character uses poor grammar upon occasion her vocabulary is that of a Stanford graduate. Her comparison to Medea is pretentious and does nothing to alleviate the general unpleasantness of the novel, which is never alleviated by humor or lightness of any kind. The descriptions are well done and unlikely from our protagonist. It is supposedly about surviving Katrina which has very little effect on the family. They suddenly manage to get to an unaffected neighborhood with people who will care for them, and Esch is even told by Big Henry that he will take care of her. It is almost fairy tale like ending to a dreadful story. There is no pleasure in reading this book.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Andi
Salvage the Bones
This book is in no way worthy of a National Book Award. In these times of "Oprah" rated best sellers, it just doesn't meet the cut! I didn't like the book!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Kathy G. (Alamo, CA)
Savage the Bones
On one hand it is was hard to read about a poor Mississippi family, and on the other hand, the story turned out to be a moving portrayal of survival. It was often hard to read due to the hard edges of very difficult realities as seen through the eyes of children. I would recommend this book with reservation.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Cecelia
near miss
The title “Salvage the Bones” was intriguing to me, but I do not understand the connection of the title with the narrative. Although there were many things needing rescue or salvaging, none of these things made me think of bones. I also had difficulty connecting the dog fights with the rest of the story. I did like the various themes on motherhood as seen in the mother dog, Esch’s mother who had died, and how Esch would have to come to terms with her own unexpected pregnancy.
The author captured the voice of a fourteen year old girl well in that most 14 year olds know how pregnancy occurs but think that it will not happen to them. She also brings in a common theme of an adolescent girl making poor choices about which boy she will pursue and mistaking sex for love. The narrator comparing her own life to the story of Medea may have been a stretch, but may be believable from a histrionic fourteen year old’s point of view. The name of the homestead “the Pit” was confusing especially when used in the same sentence as the pit bull dogs. This book gets good at the climax during the action of the flooding but then just fizzles out. The only resolution is that Esch does see that her quest for love, like Medea’s, was not going to turn out quite the way she would have scripted it.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Pamela B. (Monona, WI, WI)
Salvage the Bones
Salvage the Bones is not a happy tale. The story centers around a poor family in rural Mississippi, struggling after the death of the matriarch leaves them without direction. The siblings seem to live separate lives, but come together when needed. When life goes from bad to worse, the best comes out.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Claire M. (New York, NY)
Salvage the Bones
This is so well written that I even got through most of the dog fight. Narrated by a young girl, Esch, who describes her daily life in a swamp in Louisiana as Katrina comes closer and finally bears down on the poorest of the poor, it is a heartbreaking story but one that also shows the inner strength of our forgotten neighbors. Comparing herself to Medea in the way her own life unfolds, Esch lives out the treachery of living in poverty and the choices that are made. Metaphor, simile, and the gloriously descriptive use of language lead me to believe Jesmyn Ward will be telling stories for a long time.

...14 more reader reviews

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Jesmyn Ward's first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was published in 2008. Visit her at jesmimi.blogspot.com

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