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Jojo is a mixed-race teenager leaving with his grandparents and his younger sister Kayla in the Mississippi back blocks. His grandmother is dying of cancer but, despite that, Jojo's mother Leonie insists that they leave and go on a road trip to pick up their father Michael, who has just been released from prison.
Leonie is a drug addict and, when she is high, she has visions of her murdered brother Given. Jojo, who is very close to his Pop, starts to have similar visions of a young boy that Pop was in the same prison with many years before. The road trip rapidly develops into a traumatic experience with Kayla becoming very ill and Leonie incapable of looking after her. Indeed Kayla prefers to seek out Jojo than her mother.
This is quite a touching story of a dysfunctional family haunted by their separate pasts and unable to deal with the harsh reality creeping up on them. I really detested Ward's Salvage the Bones, due to its explicit animal cruelty, but I thought this book was much better.
I didn’t like it at all. Jumped all over the place, hard to follow. Unless you believe in the living dead and ghosts this probably isn’t for you Hard to hollow different font types and sizes. To read the small print had to enlarge the main print too much. I just didn’t get it. I always read a book from end to end hoping it gets better but sadly this one didn’t.
I should say upfront that I didn’t really bond with Sing Unburied Sing.
I am sure the novel is worthy; dealing with poverty and racial identity in southern Mississippi. I am sure the language is poetic and the imagery is evocative. But there was something that just wasn’t there for me. Perhaps it was that the three voices — a mother, a teenage boy, and the ghost of a juvenile convict — were indistinguishable. Perhaps it was that much of the story (surely there was one) was obscured by over-elaborate metaphor and convoluted language. Perhaps it was the constant presence of two ghosts, each seen by a different narrator, became confusing. Perhaps it was the drifting from past to present, from direct narration to reporting of other narrators…
Whatever it was, it made it difficult to really feel invested in the fates of Jojo, his mother Leonie, his sister Kayla, his elderly grandparents and his convict father. Individual scenes might have sparkled — Leonie (black) and Jojo (mixed race) pitching up at Leonie’s white racist parents in law; or Jojo stepping in to nurture Kayla when Leonie was not interested. But together, the whole thing just doesn’t have enough narrative drive or character development to sustain interest.
I did persevere to the end in the hope that something would click and it would all come together. Be warned, it doesn’t. As long as you are loving the book, keep reading. But if you aren’t then be aware that all that lies ahead of you is more of the same…