Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

imageSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Published by Bloomsbury
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Fourteen-year-old Esch, who has just found out that she’s pregnant, is simply trying to keep things at home together when she and her family learn of the hurricane that is about to hit their home in Bois Savage, Mississippi. Esch’s father, a man who spends most of his time drinking, is concerned about the hurricane and tries to get she and her three brothers to board up windows and get the canned goods together in preparation. Her brother Randall begins this process, her brother Junior tries but is too young to do much, but her brother Skeetah is too busy nursing his pit bull fighter, China, back to health after the birth of her puppies. As this family struggles to pull themselves together, the hurricane becomes the backdrop for all the trials they regularly face in day-to-day life.

Salvage the Bones is unlike any novel I’ve read before. It is so honest, so raw, and at times so painful that I wanted to close the book and run away, but ultimately I was deeply moved by this story. Esch and her family crawled into my heart and their struggles were so palpable that I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and lift them out.

This book is not an easy read. It broke my heart a million times over. China, Skeetah’s pit bull, is a fighting dog and as a person who loves pit bulls and has some very close family and friends who have pits as pets, the whole dogfighting business makes me extremely angry. So it was not the best for me to be reading about people fighting these precious, intelligent, loving, sweet animals. This was probably the most difficult aspect of the book for me, although the family does experience the actual hurricane and that portion of the book was hard to read too. Just know that while this story is not an easy one to read, it is certainly rewarding in the end.

Salvage the Bones elicited so many emotions in me as I was reading it. I was so frustrated by Esch’s father’s inability (or unwillingness) to take care of his family properly. Esch essentially raised her youngest brother, Junior, on her own after their mother died during his childbirth. I was so angry at the boy who got Esch pregnant as he didn’t care for her at all and was, in the most clear and simple case of this I’ve seen in fiction, just using her for sex. I was heartbroken and mad about the fighting dogs. But mostly, the book made me feel an overwhelming sadness, the overwhelming feeling that this family just could not get it together, that things would never turn around for them. Their situation was just so upsetting, so heartbreaking, that I couldn’t help but feel despair while reading about it. In fact, toward the middle of the novel there is a dogfighting scene, at which point I burst into tears and didn’t stop crying until the end of the book. It affected me that much.

Salvage the Bones is an excellent, haunting novel that brought me to tears. Not much about this book is hopeful or happy, but there is a glimmer of something there at the end that makes it all worth the journey through this family’s pain. This novel absolutely broke my heart, but at the same time I can’t help but recommend that you read it too.

13 thoughts on “Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward”

  1. This is a great review of the book – I felt exactly as you did. This is one of those books which stay with you – the writing was incredibly good, and I loved the characters despite their despair (or maybe because of it). I agree that the dog fighting was the most difficult to read…and yet, didn’t you think that China symbolized the theme of survival the best of any character?

    1. Thank you Wendy. I agree with you about China, and I remember you saying that in your review. But it was hard for me to see anything having to do with China except for my own anger at the situation. Dogfighting is just one of those things that I cannot even wrap my head around. Breaks my heart.

  2. So glad to see this review, and realize that, yes, there were some very powerful moments in the book, but also that it was a very hard book to read. I found your comments on it to be almost exactly what I was feeling and think that you wrote a really emotionally affecting and thoughtful analysis of the book. It was incredibly hard to read, and though it wasn’t really gratuitously violent, there was enough there to get me upset. Thanks for sharing this review. It was prefect.

    1. Aw, Heather you always say the nicest things. Thank you. The violence wasn’t horrific, but the concept of what was happening to China was horrifying in itself. So yes it was a very difficult book. But ultimately it made me feel deeply, which is always a good thing in my eyes.

  3. This one sounds like a heartwrenching read – definitely not a feel-good book, but worthwhile all the same.

    Thanks for being on the tour Heather! I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  4. This is a wonderful review! I work for the publisher and this popped up in a search and I’m so glad I found it. You really got to the heart of the novel and faced the tough parts very bravely. I think it’s a beautiful, wonderful book because of the hardships it describes so clearly. Thanks so much for posting this. –Laura

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