‘Sing Unburied Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward Review

‘Sing Unburied Sing’ is the third novel by the American author Jesmyn Ward. It focuses on a mixed-race family in the American South and their family road trip to collect the father, Michael, from prison.

There is a buldingsroman in the story, focusing on the coming-of-age of the protagonist Jojo, who turns thirteen at the beginning of the novel. He has a lovely relationship with his younger sister Michaela and takes care of her throughout the novel. However, it becomes clear that he does not have a close relationship with his biological parents, not addressing them as mother or father but rather calling them by their first names, Leonie and Michael.

Jojo, Leonie and Michaela are able to see ghosts and while Jojo and Michaela can see Richie, Leonie sees the ghost of her deceased brother Given, whose death haunts Leonie’s family. The characterisation of Leonie is of a troubled, struggling mother who has worries about the future and her relationships with other characters are mostly negative. Meanwhile her children, Jojo and Michaela do not appreciate her very much and Jojo is critical of her.

Aside from Leonie, the story focuses on Jojo and his experience meeting Richie, a friend of his pop’s (grandfather) and his coming-of-age experience. The description of the characters such as their skin colour, height and hair texture are repeatedly mentioned. For example, Michaela has her father Michael’s green eye colour and Jojo has Leonie’s brown eyes, which he believes are similar to mam’s (his grandmother.)The family travel with a friend, Misty, upstate to Mississippi State to collect Michael from prison and on the way back Jojo is accompanied by a ghost Richie who wants to find out how he can go ‘home’. Jojo, Leonie and Richie take turns narrating the novel.

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