06 Mar / Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward [in Library Journal]
In her second National Book Award-winning title, Jesmyn Ward returns to Bois Sauvage, MS, where her first NBA winner, Salvage the Bones, played out; Bones’ Skeetah and Eschelle appear momentarily here.
Jojo, 13, and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their African American grandparents. Their drug-addicted mother Leonie is mostly absent, until she returns announcing a road trip to collect their white father from prison. The epic journey lays bare racial, societal, and familial divides, revealing a tragic landscape still struggling with the horrific legacy of enslavement and privilege.
A trio of newbie narrators make audacious debuts; each is superb. Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Jojo is old before his time as Kayla’s protector. Rutina Wesley as Leonie achingly inhabits the limbo between desperate and determined. Chris Chalk as Richie – who slips into the car on the return ride – is caught between brash and lost. With such talent, the production should have been pitch-perfect, but the jarring disconnect among narrators when voicing the same characters in their separate chapters – Harrison’s Jojo, for example, is impossibly patient; Wesley’s Jojo sounds unnecessarily surly – mars a potentially spectacular performance. Directing flaws aside, libraries will want to satisfy eager literature lovers with all available formats.