Cover image for Salvage the bones
Salvage the bones
Publication Information:
Waterville, Maine : Wheeler Publishing, 2012.
Physical Description:
405 pages (large print) ; 23 cm
Local Subject:
Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.


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A hurricane is 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. Fourteen and pregnant Esch can't keep down what food she gets. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry revelatory and real.

Author Notes

Jesmyn Ward was born in DeLisle, Mississippi in 1977. She became a writer after the death of her brother by a drunk driver. She received a MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. Her books include the novel Where the Line Bleeds, the memoir Men We Reaped, and the nonfiction work The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race. Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award in Fiction in 2011 and an Alex Award in 2012. Sing, Unburied, Sing won the National Book Award in Fiction in 2017. She taught at University of New Orleans, the University of South Alabama, and Tulane University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ward's poetic second novel (after Where the Line Bleeds) covers the 12 days leading up to Hurricane Katrina via the rich, mournful voice of Esch Batiste, a pregnant 14-year-old black girl living with her three brothers and father in dire poverty on the edge of Bois Sauvage, Miss. Stricken with morning sickness and dogged by hunger, Esch helps her drunken father prepare their home for the gathering storm. She also looks after seven-year-old Junior while her oldest brother, Randall, trains to win a scholarship to basketball camp, and middle son Skeet devotes himself to delivering and raising his fighting bitch China's pit bull puppies. All the while, Esch ponders whether she will have the baby and yearns for its father to love her "once he learns [her] secret." 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, and though her voice threatens to overpower the story, it does a far greater service to the book by giving its cast of small lives a huge resonance. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Esch, 14 and secretly pregnant, is frantic knowing she hasn't the money for either an abortion or for the baby-to-be. Meanwhile, after Mama's death, Daddy has taken to drink, but whenever he's sober and sometimes even when he's not he is struggling to prepare their rural Mississippi property for the ominous advent of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile Brother Skeetah's pit bull has had puppies, which the boy plans to raise and sell. Soaringly tall brother Randall hopes for a basketball scholarship, and Junior, the youngest, simply drives everyone crazy. Here is an impoverished African American family that, if it didn't have bad luck, would have no luck at all. And yet the family endures despite privation, even despite the hurricane. Author Ward has an unfortunate tendency to overwrite, and this coming-of-age story tends at times to get lost in its style. In addition, Ward's surprising equation of Esch with the mythological Medea is less than completely successful. However, these problems are redeemed by the empathetic family she has created.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

JOB has nothing on 15-year-old Esch. She's poor and pregnant and plain unlucky. Mama's dead, Daddy's a drunk and dinner is Top Ramen every night. Sex is the only thing that has ever come easily to her. When the boys used to take her down in the dirt or in the back seats of stripped cars in her front yard, she could escape briefly, pretend to be Psyche, Eurydice, Daphne, her favorite nymphs and goddesses from the Greek myths. But Manny, the boy who put the baby inside her, won't look at her anymore. Esch can't lie down in the dirt and pretend to be someone else or anywhere else. She's stuck in shabby Bois Sauvage, a predominantly black Mississippi bayou town in the direct path of a hurricane they're calling Katrina. "Salvage the Bones," the 2011 National Book Award winner for fiction, is a taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written. It feels fresh and urgent, but it's an ancient, archetypal tale. Think of Noah or Gilgamesh or any soggy group of humans and dogs huddled together, waiting out an apocalyptic act of God or weather. It's an old story - of family honor, revenge, disaster - and it's a good one. As Arnold Schoenberg said, "There is still much good music that can be written in C major." And Jesmyn Ward makes beautiful music, plays deftly with her reader's expectations: where we expect violence, she gives us sweetness. When we brace for beauty, she gives us blood. Best of all, she gives us a singular heroine who breaks the mold of the typical teenage female protagonist. Esch isn't plucky or tomboyish. She's squat, sulky and sexual. But she is beloved - her brothers Randall, Skeetah and Junior are fine and strong; they brawl and sacrifice and steal for her and each other. And Esch is in bloom. Her love for Manny and her love for literature have animated the world; everything is suddenly swollen and significant. "He makes my heart beat like that, I want to say, and point at the squirrel dying in red spurts." The headiness of the language is the book's major strength and flaw. Ward can get carried away. She never uses one metaphor when she can use three, and too many sentences grow waterlogged and buckle. Set in the 12 days leading up to and just after Hurricane Katrina, the novel presents each day as a distinct vignette with the punch of a story. The book opens with China, Skeetah's pit bull, splitting open in the shed, birthing her first litter while the family watches and Skeetah massages her hips. And every ensuing scene riffs on these themes: the tenderness of men, the blessings that are brothers, the nearness of death. As a through-line, Ward weaves in the classics. Esch's love of the Greek myths has inoculated her not from horror but from surprise. When Manny spurns her, she is ready: "In every one of the Greeks' mythology tales, there is this: a man chasing a woman, or a woman chasing a man. There is never a meeting in the middle. There is only a body in a ditch, and one person walking toward or away from it." She already knows that nature is protean and mischievous, that the gods tumble to earth to chase mortal women, girls can turn into trees, a hurricane can laugh, and the creek will rise out of its bed and wend its way into her house "to eat and play." 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. They exist to be endured - until the next Katrina arrives to "cut us to the bone." And like every good myth, at its heart, the book is salvific; it wants to teach you how to wait out the storm and swim to safety. Parul Sehgal is books editor at

Kirkus Review

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Life is tough enough for the Batistes, a poor African American family just hanging on in Bois Sauvage, MS. But now it's summer, summer means hurricanes, and the hurricane about to hit is Katrina. Lyrical and relentless, Ward's narrative builds to the storm's awful landfall and aftermath, portraying both heartbreak and the family's extraordinary devotion. (LJ 8/11) (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.