Salvage the Bones

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A stunning new voice from the Gulf Coast delivers a gritty but tender novel about family and poverty in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, 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 to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what ...

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A stunning new voice from the Gulf Coast delivers a gritty but tender novel about family and poverty in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, 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 to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family-motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce-pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
2011 National Book Award Winner

NPR Bestseller

IndieBound National Indie Bestseller

San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2011

Kansas City Star Top 100 Books of the Year

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Best of the South 2011

Shelf Awareness, Reviewer’s Choice, Top 10 of 2011, Hottest Fall Novels, Books to Watch and Book of the Week

Huffington Post, The Best Upcoming Books, Fall Blockbuster Fiction

"The first great novel about Katrina." —Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

"[A] searing, understated, and big-hearted novel." —Salon

"Salvage the Bones is an intense book, with powerful, direct prose that dips into poetic metaphor . . . We are immersed in Esch’s world, a world in which birth and death nestle close, where there is little safety except that which the siblings create for each other. That close-knit familial relationship is vivid and compelling, drawn with complexities and detail." —Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

"I’ve just read [Salvage the Bones] and it’ll be a long time before its magic wears off...Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretention, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy . . . A palpable sense of desire and sorrow animates every page here . . . Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it." —Ron Charles, Washington Post

"A timeless tale of a family that regains its humanity in the face of incalculable loss." —Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Jesmyn Ward has claimed her place both as a contemporary witness of life in the rural south and as a descendant of its great originals." —Nicholas Delbanco, author of Sherbrookes and Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

"The narrator’s voice sparks with beauty as it urges the reader through this moving story set in the shadow of Katrina." Zoë Triska, Huffington Post

"Jesmyn Ward has written . . . the first Katrina-drenched fiction I’d press upon readers now." —Karen R. Long, Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"Ward’s redolent prose conjures the magic and menace of the southern landscape." —Elizabeth Hoover, Dallas Morning News

"The novel’s power comes from the dread of the approaching storm and a pair of violent climaxes. The first is a dog fight, an appalling spectacle given emotional depth by Skeetah’s love for the pit bull China (their bond is the strongest and most affecting in the book). When the hurricane strikes, Ms. Ward endows it, too, with attributes maternal and savage: ‘Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.’ " Wall Street Journal

"From its lyrical yet visceral first scene, this novel had me, and I hardly dared to put it down for fear a spell might be broken. But it never was or will be; such are the gifts of this writer." —Laura Kasischke, author of In a Perfect World

"Without a false note . . . A superbly realized work of fiction that, while Southern to the bone, transcends its region to become universal." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With her tough, tense and taut tale of one rural family’s bitter and bloody fight for survival in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, [Ward] has secured herself a place among such other great Southern writers as Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. Ward’s electrifying, exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat second novel, Salvage the Bones, takes us into the naked heart of one Southern family struggling for both survival and identity. With prose both powerful and poetic, Ward has imagined an unforgettable family." —CityBeat (Cincinnati)

"Ward uses fearless, toughly lyrical language to convey this family’s close-knit tenderness [and] the sheer bloody-minded difficulty of rural African American life . . . It’s an eye-opening heartbreaker that ends in hope . . . You owe it to yourself to read this book." —Library Journal (starred review)

"Few works of fiction can capture the heart-wrenching emotions attached to a natural disaster, and fewer still can do it in a way that seems palpable and fresh. Salvage the Bones, the latest by rising star Jesmyn Ward, accomplishes this feat, and then some . . . From beginning to end, Jesmyn flirts with perfection in this stunning second novel, and the reader is rewarded for it." Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

"A pitch-perfect account of struggle and community in the rural South . . . Though the characters in Salvage the Bones face down Hurricane Katrina, the story isn’t really about the storm. It’s about people facing challenges, and how they band together to overcome adversity." BookPage

"[Salvage the Bones] is uncompromising and frank, showing both beauty and violence, poverty and resilience, in a powerful and poetic voice." Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)


Parul Sehgal
…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…Jesmyn Ward…plays deftly with her reader's expectations: where we expect violence, she gives us sweetness. When we brace for beauty, she gives us blood.
—The New York Times Book Review
Ron Charles
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that's about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy…Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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 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.)
Library Journal
It's summer 2005 in Bois Sauvage, MS. Even as she watches her brother Skeetah's beloved pit bull, China, give birth, 15-year-old Esch realizes that she herself is pregnant. Like China in the dog ring, Esch's family is fighting daily just to survive, with her father mostly lost to drink after his wife died giving birth to Junior, and other brother Randall hoping he can win a place at basketball camp and eventually leave their thankless existence in the dust. Now a hurricane is coming, which means boarding up windows as Daddy schemes to make money helping with the inevitable cleanup. But this hurricane is Katrina, and more than cleanup will be needed when it's over. Working through the 12 days building up to and encompassing the hurricane's arrival, Ward (Where the Line Bleeds) uses fearless, toughly lyrical language to convey this family's close-knit tenderness, the sheer bloody-minded difficulty of rural African American life, and what it's like when those hurricane winds sledge-hammer you and the water rises faster than you can stand up. It's an eye-opening heartbreaker that ends in hope. VERDICT Highly recommended; you owe it to yourself to read this book. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
An evocative novel of a family torn apart by grief, hardship, misunderstanding and, soon, the biggest storm any of them has ever seen. Set over a dozen days while awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, and then dealing with its consequences, Ward's (Where the Line Bleeds, 2008) tale is superficially a simple one: Young Esch, barely a teenager, is pregnant. She is so young, in fact, that her brothers can scare her with a Hansel and Gretel story set in the Mississippi bayou where she lives, yet old enough to understand that the puppies that are gushing forth from the family dog are more than a metaphor. Esch's task is simple, too: She has to disguise the pregnancy from her widowed father, a task that is easier than it might sound, since her father is constantly self-medicated ("Outside the window, Daddy jabbed at the belly of the house with his can of beer") and, much of the time, seems unaware that his children ought to be depending on him. But they don't; Esch and her three brothers are marvels of self-sufficiency, and as the vast storm looms on the horizon, building from tropical depression to category 5 monster, they occupy themselves figuring out what kind of canned meats they need to lay in and how many jugs of water have to be hauled from the store. The bayou has its share of terrors of other kinds, and so do the matters of life and death that children ought to be spared; suffice it to say that there's plenty of blood, and no small amount of vomit, whether owing to morning sickness or alcohol poisoning. (When Esch admonishes her father for drinking while taking antibiotics, he replies, "Beer ain't nothing...Just like a cold drink.") Naturally, in a situation where the children are the adults and vice versa, something has to give—and it does, straight in the maw of Katrina. Yet the fury of the storm yields a kind of redemption, a scenario that could dissolve into mawkishness, but that Ward pulls off without a false note. A superbly realized work of fiction that, while Southern to the bone, transcends its region to become universal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608196265
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 87,456
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.08 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood awards for essays, drama, and fiction. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford, from 2008-2010, she has been named the 2010-11 Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

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Read an Excerpt


a novel

Bloomsbury USA

Copyright © 2011 Jesmyn Ward
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-522-0

Chapter One


China's turned on herself. If I didn't know, I would think she was trying to eat her paws. I would think that she was crazy. Which she is, in a way. Won't let nobody touch her but Skeet. When she was a big-headed pit bull puppy, she stole all the shoes in the house, all our black tennis shoes Mama bought because they hide dirt and hold up until they're beaten soft. Only Mama's forgotten sandals, thin-heeled and tinted pink with so much red mud seeped into them, looked different. China hid them all under furniture, behind the toilet, stacked them in piles and slept on them. When the dog was old enough to run and trip down the steps on her own, she took the shoes outside, put them in shallow ditches under the house. She'd stand rigid as a pine when we tried to take them away from her. Now China is giving like she once took away, bestowing where she once stole. She is birthing puppies.

What China is doing is nothing like what Mama did when she had my youngest brother, Junior. Mama gave birth in the house she bore all of us in, here in this gap in the woods her father cleared and built on that we now call the Pit. Me, the only girl and the youngest at eight, was of no help, although Daddy said she told him she didn't need any help. Daddy said that Randall and Skeetah and me came fast, that Mama had all of us in her bed, under her own bare burning bulb, so when it was time for Junior, she thought she could do the same. It didn't work that way. Mama squatted, screamed toward the end. Junior came out purple and blue as a hydrangea: Mama's last flower. She touched Junior just like that when Daddy held him over her: lightly with her fingertips, like she was afraid she'd knock the pollen from him, spoil the bloom. She said she didn't want to go to the hospital. Daddy dragged her from the bed to his truck, trailing her blood, and we never saw her again.

What China is doing is fighting, like she was born to do. Fight our shoes, fight other dogs, fight these puppies that are reaching for the outside, blind and wet. China's sweating and the boys are gleaming, and I can see Daddy through the window of the shed, his face shining like the flash of a fish under the water when the sun hit. It's quiet. Heavy. Feels like it should be raining, but it isn't. There are no stars, and the bare bulbs of the Pit burn.

"Get out the doorway. You making her nervous." Skeetah is Daddy's copy: dark, short, and lean. His body knotted with ropy muscles. He is the second child, sixteen, but he is the first for China. She only has eyes for him.

"She ain't studying us," Randall says. He is the oldest, seventeen. Taller than Daddy, but just as dark. He has narrow shoulders and eyes that look like they want to jump out of his head. People at school think he's a nerd, but when he's on the basketball court, he moves like a rabbit, all quick grace and long haunches. When Daddy is hunting, I always cheer for the rabbit.

"She need room to breathe." Skeetah's hands slide over her fur, and he leans in to listen to her belly. "She gotta relax."

"Ain't nothing about her relaxed." Randall is standing at the side of the open doorway, holding the sheet that Skeetah has nailed up for a door. For the past week, Skeetah has been sleeping in the shed, waiting for the birth. Every night, I waited until he cut the light off , until I knew he was asleep, and I walked out of the back door to the shed, stood where I am standing now, to check on him. Every time, I found him asleep, his chest to her back. He curled around China like a fingernail around flesh.

"I want to see." Junior is hugging Randall's legs, leaning in to see but without the courage to stick in more than his nose. China usually ignores the rest of us, and Junior usually ignores her. But he is seven, and he is curious. When the boy from Germaine bought his male pit bull to the Pit to mate with China three months ago, Junior squatted on an oil drum above the makeshift kennel, an old disconnected truck bed dug in the earth with chicken wire stretched over it, and watched. When the dogs got stuck, he circled his face with his arms, but still refused to move when I yelled at him to go in the house. He sucked on his arm and played with the dangling skin of his ear, like he does when he watches television, or before he falls to sleep. I asked him once why he does it, and all he would say is that it sounds like water.

Skeetah ignores Junior because he is focused on China like a man focuses on a woman when he feels that she is his, which China is. Randall doesn't say anything but stretches his hand across the door to block Junior from entering.

"No, Junior." I put out my leg to complete the gate barring Junior from the dog, from the yellow string of mucus pooling to a puddle on the floor under China's rear.

"Let him see," Daddy says. "He old enough to know about that." His is a voice in the darkness, orbiting the shed. He has a hammer in one hand, a clutch of nails in another. China hates him. I relax, but Randall doesn't move and neither does Junior. Daddy spins away from us like a comet into the darkness. There is the sound of hammer hitting metal.

"He makes her tense," Skeetah says.

"Maybe you need to help her push," I say. Sometime I think that is what killed Mama. I can see her, chin to chest, straining to push Junior out, and Junior snagging on her insides, grabbing hold of what he caught on to try to stay inside her, but instead he pulled it out with him when he was born.

"She don't need no help pushing."

And China doesn't. Her sides ripple. She snarls, her mouth a black line. Her eyes are red; the mucus runs pink. Everything about China tenses and there are a million marbles under her skin, and then she seems to be turning herself inside out. At her opening, I see a purplish red bulb. China is blooming.

If one of Daddy's drinking buddies had asked what he's doing to night, he would've told them he's fixing up for the hurricane. It's summer, and when it's summer, there's always a hurricane coming or leaving here. Each pushes its way through the flat Gulf to the twenty-six-mile manmade Mississippi beach, where they knock against the old summer mansions with their slave galleys turned guest houses before running over the bayou, through the pines, to lose wind, drip rain, and die in the north. Most don't even hit us head-on anymore; most turn right to Florida or take a left for Texas, brush past and glance off us like a shirtsleeve. We ain't had one come straight for us in years, time enough to forget how many jugs of water we need to fill, how many cans of sardines and potted meat we should stock, how many tubs of water we need. But on the radio that Daddy keeps playing in his parked truck, I heard them talking about it earlier today. How the forecasters said the tenth tropical depression had just dissipated in the Gulf but another one seems to be forming around Puerto Rico.

So today Daddy woke me up by hitting the wall outside me and Junior's room.

"Wake up! We got work to do."

Junior rolled over in his bed and curled into the wall. I sat up long enough to make Daddy think I was going to get up, and then I lay back down and drifted off . When I woke up two hours later, Daddy's radio was running in his truck. Junior's bed was empty, his blanket on the floor.

"Junior, get the rest of them shine jugs."

"Daddy, ain't none under the house."

Outside the window, Daddy jabbed at the belly of the house with his can of beer. Junior tugged his shorts. Daddy gestured again, and Junior squatted and slithered under the house. The underside of the house didn't scare him like it had always scared me when I was little. Junior disappeared between the cinder blocks holding up the house for afternoons, and would only come out when Skeetah threatened to send China under there after him. I asked Junior one time what he did under there, and all he would say is that he played. I imagined him digging sleeping holes like a dog would, laying on his back in the sandy red dirt and listening to our feet slide and push across floorboards.

Junior had a good arm, and bottles and cans rolled out from under the house like pool balls. They stopped when they hit the rusted-over cow bath Daddy had salvaged from the junkyard where he scraps metal. He'd brought it home for Junior's birthday last year and told him to use it as a swimming pool.

"Shoot," Randall said. He was sitting on a chair under his homemade basketball goal, a rim he'd stolen from the county park and screwed into the trunk of a dead pine tree.

"Ain't nothing hit us in years. They don't come this way no more. When I was little, they was always hitting us." It was Manny. I stood at the edge of the bedroom window, not wanting him to see me. Manny threw a basketball from hand to hand. Seeing him broke the cocoon of my rib cage, and my heart unfurled to fly.

"You act like you ancient—you only two years older than me. Like I don't remember how they used to be," Randall said as he caught the rebound and passed it back to Manny. "If anything hit us this summer, it's going to blow down a few branches. News don't know what they talking about." Manny had black curly hair, black eyes, and white teeth, and his skin was the color of fresh-cut wood at the heart of a pine tree. "Every-time somebody in Bois Sauvage get arrested, they always get the story wrong."

"That's journalists. Weatherman's a scientist," Randall said.

"He ain't shit." From where I was, Manny looked like he was blushing, but I knew his face had broken out, tinged him red, and that the rest of it was the scar on his face.

"Oh, one's coming all right." Daddy wiped his hand along the side of his truck.

Manny rolled his eyes and jerked his thumb at Daddy. He shot. Randall caught the ball and held it. "There ain't even a tropical depression yet," Randall said to Daddy, "and you got Junior bowling with shine bottles."

Randall was right. Daddy usually filled a few jugs of water. Canned goods was the only kind of groceries Daddy knew how to make, so we were never short on Vienna sausages and potted meat. We ate Top Ramen every day: soupy, added hot dogs, drained the juice so it was spicy pasta; dry, it tasted like crackers. The last time we'd had a bad storm hit head-on, Mama was alive; after the storm, she'd barbecued all the meat left in the silent freezer so it wouldn't spoil, and Skeetah ate so many hot sausage links he got sick. Randall and I had fought over the last pork chop, and Mama had pulled us apart while Daddy laughed about it, saying: She can hold her own. Told you she was going to be a little scrappy scrawny thing—built just like you.

"This year's different," Daddy said as he sat on the back of his trunk. For a moment he looked not-drunk. "News is right: every week it's a new storm. Ain't never been this bad." Manny shot again, and Randall chased the ball.

"Makes my bones hurt," Daddy said. "I can feel them coming."

I pulled my hair back in a ponytail. It was my one good thing, my odd thing, like a Doberman come out white: corkscrew curls, black, limp when wet but full as fistfuls of frayed rope when dry. Mama used to let me run around with it down, said it was some throwback trait, and since I got it, I might as well enjoy it. But I looked in the mirror and knew the rest of me wasn't so remarkable: wide nose, dark skin, Mama's slim, short frame with all the curves folded in so that I looked square. I changed my shirt and listened to them talking outside. The walls, thin and uninsulated, peeling from each other at the seams, made me feel like Manny could see me before I even stepped outside. Our high school English teacher, Ms. Dedeaux, gives us reading every summer. After my ninth-grade year, we read As I Lay Dying, and I made an A because I answered the hardest question right: Why does the young boy think his mother is a fish? This summer, after tenth grade, we are reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology. The chapter I finished reading day before yesterday is called "Eight Brief Tales of Lovers," and it leads into the story of Jason and the Argonauts. I wondered if Medea felt this way before she walked out to meet Jason for the first time, like a hard wind come through her and set her to shaking. The insects singing as they ring the red dirt yard, the bouncing ball, Daddy's blues coming from his truck radio, they all called me out the door.

China buries her face between her paws with her tail end in the air before the last push for the first puppy. She looks like she wants to flip over into a headstand, and I want to laugh, but I don't. Blood oozes from her, and Skeetah crouches even closer to help her. China yanks her head up, and her eyes snap open along with her teeth. "Careful!" Randall says. Skeetah has startled her. He lays his hands on her and she rises. I went to my daddy's Methodist church one time with my mama, even though she raised us Catholic, and this is what China moves like; like she has caught the ghost, like the holiest voice moves through her instead of Skeetah's. I wonder if her body feels like it is in the grip of one giant hand that wrings her empty.

"I see it!" Junior squeals.

The first puppy is big. It opens her and slides out in a stream of pink slime. Skeetah catches it, places it to the side on a pile of thin, ripped towels he has prepared. He wipes it.

"Orange, like his daddy," Skeetah says. "This one's going to be a killer."

The puppy is almost orange. He is really the color of the red earth after someone has dug in it to plant a field or pull up stones or put in a body. It is Mississippi red. The daddy was that color: he was short and looked like a big red muscle. He had chunks of skin and flesh crusted over to scabby sores from fighting. When he and China had sex, there was blood on their jaws, on her coat, and instead of loving, it looked like they were fighting. China's skin is rippling like wind over water. The second puppy slides halfway out feet-first and hangs there.

"Skeet," Junior squeaks. He has one eye and his nose pressed against Randall's leg, which he is hugging. He seems very dark and very small, and in the night gloom, I cannot see the color of his clothes.

Skeetah grabs the puppy's rear, and his hand covers the entire torso. He pulls. China growls, and the puppy slides clear. He is pink. When Skeetah lays him on the mat and wipes him off , he is white with tiny black spots like watermelon seeds spit across his fur. His tongue protrudes through the tiny slit that is his mouth, and he looks like a flat cartoon dog. He is dead. Skeetah lets go of the towel and the puppy rolls, stiff as a bowling pin, across the padding to rest lightly against the red puppy, which is moving its legs in small fits, like blinks.

"Shit, China." Skeetah breathes. Another puppy is coming. This one slowly slides out headfirst; a lonely, hesitant diver. Big Henry, one of Randall's friends, dives into the water at the river like that every time we go swimming: heavy and carefully, as if he is afraid his big body, with its whorls of muscle and fat, will hurt the water. And every time Big Henry does so, the other boys laugh at him. Manny is always the loudest of them all: his teeth white knives, his face golden red. The puppy lands in the cup of Skeetah's palms. She is a patchwork of white and brown. She is moving, her head bobbing in imitation of her mother's. Skeetah cleans the puppy. He kneels behind China, who growls. Yelps. Splits.

Even though Daddy's truck was parked right beyond the front door and Junior hit me in my calf with a shine bottle, I looked at Manny first. He was holding the ball like an egg, with his fingertips, the way Randall says a good ball handler does. Manny could dribble on rocks. I had seen him in the rocky sand at the corner of the basketball court down at the park, him and Randall, dribbling and defending, dribbling and defending. The rocks made the ball ricochet between their legs like a rubber paddleball, unpredictable and wild, but they were so good they caught to dribble again nearly every time. They'd fall before they'd let the ball escape, dive to be cut by shells and small gray stones. Manny was holding the ball as tenderly as he would a pit puppy with pedigree papers. I wanted him to touch me that way.


Excerpted from SALVAGE THE BONES by JESMYN WARD Copyright © 2011 by Jesmyn Ward. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 72 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 4, 2013

    The writing is well done - no equivocations there.  Jesmyn Ward

    The writing is well done - no equivocations there.  Jesmyn Ward is masterful in her storytelling.  

    BUT, if you, like me, cannot stomach stories in which bad things happen to dogs, do not read this book.  Aside from the dog fighting, if I never hear another story about the dogs that people failed to adequately care for during Katrina, I'd be glad for it.  Maybe it's the state of the world, but I prefer my fiction without sad and mistreated dogs.      

    28 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2011

    Beautiful novel

    I wrote a longer review for this book on my nook before accidently clicking away from the screen and losing it, so I'm not going to re-write the long review this book truly deserves. Instead, to keep it short and sweet, I'll just say this book is beautiful, the characters exceptional, the plot tense but slow enough to savor, and the climax equal parts distressing and hopeful. I finished this book several days ago (read it in one sitting) and it has still stuck with me so do yourself a favor and read this book.

    17 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2011

    Looking Forward To The Next One

    I loved this book. Not to be cliche, but this author has a way with words and has a very poetic style. She provides great imagery and descriptions where other authors would have taken an easier route to say "the sky was blue". This is what separates her book from a piece of fiction and makes hers a piece of fiction literature. How she tells the story is great, but the story she tells is even greater. I fell in love with and felt empathetic for the characters in the story. Although we only spent 12 days with them, what we learned about them and their struggles, their victories, and how they constantly overcome defeat, covered more than 12 days. I liked how the author gave each character equal time in the light. Even China and her puppies were well developed characters and I felt they were significant to the plot. What I thought about most when reading this story was that these chracters were very young, all still teens, yet they were acting like adults and taking on adult roles because they had to. Yes, they were making some bad choices along the way but who was there to guide them to make better ones? Although they were good at protecting Jr they didn't understand him and thought he was being weird or boisterous when in fact he was being a normal young kid. Sadly, many kids today are in similar situations. Kids raising kids because while the parents are physically there they are still absent. Finally, I know all too well the aftermath of Katrina. The descriptions were very realistic. The author was spot on with this one. I look forward to future work from Ms. Ward.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    This is literature. Wholly original and absolutely gut-wrenching...

    There is a moment in the beginning of this book when I want to put the book down (the birthing of puppies). There is a point in the middle when I breathe raggedly, as though from a gut punch (Ward’s description of the dog fight). And there are long stretches at the end of this book when I cannot take my horrified eyes from the page, when I feel my insides crumbling and my heart breaking and my memories reeling and I know I have read something extraordinary. Jesmyn Ward just gives us words, but words like none other has written. She has put them together in a way that creates a world apart but with all the love, pain, pathos, hope, fear, and loyalty that we will recognize from the finest examples of our literature. When she describes the color and texture of a man’s arm, or the watery pressure of a new pregnancy, or the terror of discovering rising water through the floorboards of one’s living room, Jesmyn Ward has caught that thing as though it were alive. When I try to say in a few words the story of this novel, everything I write is inadequate. A poor family lives outside a town but near the coast in Mississippi. Our narrator is fourteen with hair that frames her head “like a pillow.” She has three brothers, a father that drinks too much, and several paramours but one in particular. Katrina hits and we experience the storm. This is classic literature, and, difficult as it may seem at first, wholly appropriate for teens. It is a little like saying A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is a teen title. That book, about a teen forced into soldiering in Sierra Leone, is similarly hard-hitting. It might be better for our teens to know than not to know. They are exposed to so much anyway--a little reality might improve their outlook. I wouldn't "require" this novel, but I would add it to reading lists. Teens can do much worse than experience the exquisite sense of language in this wholly original work.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    Plot spoilers

    This book must have been about a book report because 98% of the so called reviews read like school book reports. Bn, when are you ever going to do something to these ppl that constantly ruin books for other readers by revealing every detail of the book? It is rude and inconsiderate. They should be fined, and banned and their posts deleted.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2012

    Even with the load of Southern Cultural Steretypes, this book is

    Even with the load of Southern Cultural Steretypes, this book is uninteresting.

    Poor southern family. Black alcoholic father. Non-married pregnant daughter. Can't we Southerners get a break and have a book deal with a balanced reality? After Hurricane Katrina I would venture to say that everyone in the U.S. with a television knows Hurricanes are deadly. People along the Gulf coast know this as their reality. However, this family is clueless, thanks to that alcoholic father. Well, he had to be drunk to leave the family in peril If you want to read a book that will make you want to go to a therapist afterward, this one is for you. You get dragged down with the southern sluggishness of lives town apart.

    4 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2012

    A lullaby. It's horrifying in a dreamlike way that haunts and ch

    A lullaby. It's horrifying in a dreamlike way that haunts and chills. I'm almost angry at Jesmyn for setting the bar so high, now that every other book feels flat and lame. Excellent, excellent, excellent.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2013

    Dogs dont sweat

    Someone needs to inform the author that dogs dont sweat. She spent paragraphs describing dogs sweating and dogs dont even sweat aside from the occational drop from their paw pads. Its ridiculous along with a lot of the writing in this book which I dont even care to waste time describing.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    'Salvage the Bones' is Somber Following Hurricane Katrina, a sl

    'Salvage the Bones' is Somber

    Following Hurricane Katrina, a slew of books about it came out in quick succession over the course of a year or two. It was a “popular” topic and I avoided every single one. I try not to read books that are written by authors who are attempting to capitalize on a catastrophic event while the event is still unfolding. There’s a big difference between historical fiction and riding that wave. So, even though it’s 8 years later, I was hesitant to read this book.

    I’m not sure where I first saw it, but it had a good review and one of the things that jumped out at me what that the reviewer went out of their way to say that while this was a book that took place during Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane is a backdrop and in no way dictates the story. Basically, it could have been any number of hurricanes or rainstorms down in the bayou, and that the author was not attempting to profit from a sensational story about tragedy.

    Let me just say that I flew through this book and the writer of that review (thanks to whoever you are) was entirely correct. Hurricane Katrina set the tone for the book, but did not propel the story on its own. Instead, the book takes place over 12 days, with each chapter representing a day and beginning the day Hurricane Katrina formed while ending after she makes landfall.The story itself is about the Batiste family, who live in fictional Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Poor and living in the Pit, Esche and her three brothers struggle with day to day life 9 years after the death of their mother. While Esche is coming to terms with her own personal problems, her brother Skeetah is trying to take care of the new puppies his prized fighter pit bull, China, gave birth to. Meanwhile, Randall is trying to win a scholarship to basketball camp and Junior, the baby of the family, is just trying to keep up and not be left behind. I love that the author gives the reader a glimpse into the daily lives of a poverty-stricken family without evoking pity. Instead, their financial situation is simply a way of life and not something that they focus on or complain about.

    I must point out that dogfighting is a big part of this book and that Chapter 8 was some of the most intense and difficult reading I have ever read (they also eat a shark, which I’m sure bothers me more than most people because I’m a huge shark conservationist). Despite these difficulties, it is a great book. It’s not a sunshine and rainbows book, but I think it has widespread appeal. The writing style, which is similar to Precious, Room, and The Help, is not one I typically enjoy. In fact, I haven’t read any of the books I just mentioned because I can’t get through the first chapter. BUT, I was able to get through this one with flying colors and I think it’s a great read for anyone who is interested in the the region.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    You really just need to pick up Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

    You really just need to pick up Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.  I could just end my review right there.

    But I guess I won't.  I'll tell you a little more.

    Over the course of twelve days, you learn about a poor family in Mississippi, before, during, and after a large hurricane sweeps through town.  You may have heard of this hurricane.  It's Katrina.

    Esch's father is very concerned about the hurricane, but he doesn't stay sober enough to make sure all of the plans go through properly.  Esch hasn't been feeling well, and has an inkling of why her stomach seems to be growing.  Her brother Skeetah is consumed with his fighting dog and her puppies.  Esch's brothers Randall and Junior don't really seem to have specific places where they fit in.

    As the days loom closer to the hurricane's arrival, as a reader, I was nervous for them!  I kept thinking: how can they be experiencing daily life when they need to be so much more prepared?  But Esch's family had no way of knowing what would happen. . . and what would happen to them.

    What kind of natural disasters do you have where you live?

    Thanks for reading,

    Rebecca @ Love at First Book

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    This novel is a deeply disturbing book about a poor black famil

    This novel is a deeply disturbing book about a poor black family in lower Mississippi, facing the tribulations of life and preparing for a dangerous threat that could end all their lives. The main character’s lives run parallel to each other. Esch is a fourteen year old girl that is forced to live in poverty while raising her younger brother due to her neglecting, drunk father. She is also very promisqueous and is eventually impregnated by a guy that is not only older than her, but also has no romantic feelings for her. She believes he will develop them but this time never comes. The other main character is China, a white pit bull that Esch's brother, Skeetah, raises like his own child even though he is training her to be a ferocious fighting dog. However, China has puppies early in the book and throughout the novel she struggles to get well. Skeetah goes through many hardships to help his dog. This shows that he really cares for the animal. During all of this, the threat of hurricane Katrina is a constant threat that is hinted at throughout the story.
    Even though the book shows deep feeling and family values, the constant over exagerration of detail and harsh topics is to much for my taste. From dog fighting, a terrible act in of itself, to a fourteen year old having sex constantly, this book shows a hundred bad examples for children to idolize. Throughout the book, the characters show no remorse for their actions and even pick fun at the topics. The fact that the severe issues in this novel are not only stated straight out but are the main focus of the book and are expressed in vivid detail is a sore miscalculation by the author. The ever present danger of Katrina is far understated and the finale of the storm is so insignificant that being affected by it is rather difficult. If the author can express in such clear detail dog fights and sex, then why can she not express the horror of a major storm that wiped out the lower part of a country.
    In comparison to many other novels, this one falls short in it's eagerness to be different and it's overexaggeration of details that truly do not matter. The true emphasis is misplaced and is under appreciated by the author and is not a reccomended book for those that want a morally sound book.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2014

    Having been to New Orleans to work on Hurricane Katrina's devast

    Having been to New Orleans to work on Hurricane Katrina's devastating damage, I was drawn to this book. I wasn't sure at first that I really liked the slow moving style of the book. However, it did mirror the travel of a hurricane! And after I finished, I did basically like the book as it really showed how many people in that area just truly did not think the destruction would be so massive. The author really showed the life of this dysfunctional family, but how they were drawn together during this time. What I did not like was all the descriptive language in the book....the similes and metaphors were TOTALLY overdone and there were many times I wanted to ditch the book and not finish it. However, I AM glad I stuck it out...just reader beware...found myself at times just skimming these sections!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2013

    A must read

    I don't remember how i heard about this book but i am a different person because of it. Please, read this book with an open heart. The first person narration was a brilliant decision by the author. It took me into the narrators world where i lived for the duration of the novel. The narrator is an innocent but obviously intelligent child. Another reviewer called her promiscuous. Open your heart and mind and see life thru this child's eyes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    What is Salvage the Bones About? Salvage the Bones is one of th

    What is Salvage the Bones About?
    Salvage the Bones is one of the better books to read in an English class. Jesmyn Ward is one of the best authors to read. She can really tell a story and take stuff around her and write one of the best books. This book is about poor people and what happens when there is a hurricane fixing to hit. Many of the characters in this book can relate to someone you know or have heard of. The main characters names are: Esch, Skeetah, and Junior. All the characters are so different from each other even though they are siblings. Jesmyn Ward effectively used the contrast in the pace of the book as a technique to really show the calm before the storm. Just as life for the real victims of Hurricane Katrina continued as usual in the days leading up to the hurricane, with all the mundaneness of daily life, so did the lives of Esch and her family, that is, until the hurricane hit and wiped everything out.
    Esch and her three brothers are raised by their alcoholic father in their run down house. Her father does not have a job and is abusive towards her bothers sometimes. There is little money for the necessities they need like food. So they live off the land as much as they can and they hope they can make money off the litter of pure bred pit bull terriers one of her older brothers is raising. They do bad things sometimes like steel but they don’t know better. In this story to Esch is fourteen and ends up pregnant.
    Esch is the main character in this book. She is the one that tells the story and everything that goes on. Her mother died when she was young. Esch is in love with a guy named Manny. He only uses her for sex because he knows she is so easy and it is not fair for her. She ends up pregnant and she does not want to tell anybody. She is Manny’s girl on the side, while the girl he talks to doesn’t want to do anything with him. Esch is a really good girl beside that. But you really can’t blame her most teenagers her age have sex. And some cases you do have some of them getting pregnant. It is sad that her mother is not there to help her. That is probably the reason she is the way she is. She has a lot of fun though and she grew up pretty well without a mother.
    Motherhood is certainly a recurring theme in Salvage the Bones. Everyone is Esch's family remembers their mother with love. Esch's father is clearly a man devastated by the loss of his wife and the mother of his children. Esch, on the cusp of becoming a mother herself, reflects on the good that her mother did and the big shoes that she and her brothers had to fill when her mother passed away. Ward takes time to show Skeetah's dog China's attempts to be a mother to her new pups, and Skeetah's attempt to take on this roll when China and the pups need him to.
    All of the characters are salvaging something. Skeetah, one of Esch's brothers, salvages anything he can for the sake of his dogs; wormer, food, planks of wood. In doing so Skeetah is really attempting to salvage his sense of purpose. They all salvage items from their property in order to prepare for the hurricane, just as everyone who was affected by the hurricane must salvage what they can of their lives. For Junior, one of Esch's brothers, it is memories of his mother that he attempts to salvage throughout the novel.
    Ward creates a real sense of wilderness and need around Esch and her family. She created this by slowly revealing little details that really demonstrated the level of poverty they lived in. Ward reveals how the children had to raise their youngest brother when their mother dies in childbirth. When the hurricane hits it speeds up the speed of the story. It has you reading faster cause you get so into it. You will never want to put it down. This is one of the best books Jesmyn Ward has written and it is worth reading. It is interesting and you never know what is coming.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2012

    The story did not appeal to me at all. It was on the list for ou

    The story did not appeal to me at all. It was on the list for our book club to read and after several of us read it (early) it was then taken off the list and another book substituted in. Just was not our "cup of tea".

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2015

    Destined to be a classic!

    This story is about a motherless girl and her family in the days before and during Hurricane Katrina. They are struggling in with the poverty that surrounds them in the rural area they live in. But while they have come to accept the conditions that they live in, they maintain a normal kind of life and don't seem to think about the future and how they will overcome the station in life where they are. The story centers on Esch, a fourteen year old girl in love with her older brother's friend and who has discovered her life is about to change dramatically. It also focuses on her brother who is obsessed with his Pit bull, China. He dreams of a future when he will sell China's puppies for profit. Their dad has struggled following the death of the mother with her loss and had escaped into alcohol. As he starts to prepare for the coming storm, a tragedy occurs, which will affect the ability of the family to survive. The book was well written and difficult to put down as you the reader get caught up in the storm that is both within the family and the one that is headed for them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2013


    Who reads this book babys

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013


    Very interesting book.... Cool writing style
    A very graphic look at life in the poor bayous of Louisiana and how they dealt with Katrina

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    As Hurricane Katrina began to brew in the Gulf of Mexico, Esch a

    As Hurricane Katrina began to brew in the Gulf of Mexico, Esch and her family prepared to face many hard ships for the next twelve days. “Salvage the Bones,” written by Jesmyn Ward, is told through the eyes of the fourteen year old daughter named Esch. In the midst of preparing for the hurricane coming, Skeetah’s pit-bull gives birth to a litter of puppies, Esch finds out she is pregnant, and their family slowly falls apart.
    This book opened with the scene of Skeetah’s pit-bull, China, giving birth to a litter of puppies. This book revolved around a cycle of birth and death and pain and sorrow. Skeetah strived to care for China like he wanted his father to care for his children. Although Esch’s father stayed drunk and he was usually absent in their life, they learned how to fend for themselves. Esch and her three brothers, Randall, Skeetah, and Junior, came together and protected each other.
    Their mother died giving birth to Junior, therefore; they have longed for that mother figure since she has been gone. Esch tries to somewhat take the role of her mother by comforting her brothers, cooking, and taking care of things around their house. Esch’s brothers took care of the manly chores around their home and stock up on the little food they could find to help them during the hurricane. The food and products were so limited that Skeetah would sneak scraps to feed China and her pups. This story truly showed how strong and caring the children were during such a tragic time and at such a young age.
    They did not have much to ease their hardships while living in poverty. Esch escaped from reality through sex. This showed how lost she was without having a mother there to teach her right from wrong. Randall found a passion in basketball. He had high hopes that he would be taken away from the pit by getting scouted by a college league. Skeetah spent his time taking care of China or putting her in dog fights. Junior was very young and tended to cling to Randall. They did not have parents to guide their paths or set any type of standards for them; they only had each other.
    This book illustrated the reality and pitiless hardships that poverty faces daily. All the hardships in Esch’s life have taught her life-long lessons she can use toward anything. Not only did Esch and her brothers have to cope on their own, their childhood was taken away. With the death of their mother and the absence of their father, it seemed as if love and compassion toward Esch and her brothers was very limited throughout this book. Every time a good thing came along, death followed closely behind it. Even though this family faced a brutal time in their lives, Esch and her family found light through the darkness.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    Keana Wash Review of Salvage the Bones Salvage the Bones writt

    Keana Wash

    Review of Salvage the Bones
    Salvage the Bones written by Jesmyn Ward, is an interesting book to read. It captures your attention the moment it is read. The family of the Bastile not only struggled from pregnancy and poverty, they also tried to manage Hurricane Katrina as well. Even though they had their problems, nothing seem like it could pull them apart.
    The Bastile family are not as wealthy as most people in their town. They live in a house called a pit in a very small neighborhood. They did not have many jobs around and if they did get a job, it did not pay over minimum wage. They did not get to eat a whole lot of fancy food. Basically, they ate the same thing almost every day, which was ramen noodles and eggs. The kids did not have a mother or a mother figure around to help except for Esh. She was the only girl in the household. On top of all that, Esh was pregnant with a baby. So that was one more problem added to their list that they did not need. They could barely feed their family, so what makes them think they can feed one more mouth? Despite all of that, they had a pitbull name China that was a fighting dog that was once a champion, but then had gotten pregnant and they are trying to find a medicine to give her so she will not get worms.
    Esh is pregnant by this dude that she is madly in love with but unfortunately, he cannot help support the baby when it is born. Pregnancy is the thing in their family because Esh and the dog are, but at the moment and time, they cannot afford that to happen. Before Esh knew she was pregnant, she was noticing that she was getting sick and missing her cycle. Sadly to say, she did not have the money to buy a pregnancy test so she had to steal in order to find out. When she had took the test that morning that is when she had foung out she was becoming a mother.
    Love is a hard to thing to find and a hard thing to lose. If you are in love, it is hard for you to see many things that your partner is doing. Just like Esh, she is in love with this boy name Manny. He is the one that has gotten her pregnant. Sadly, he does not care for her as she does for him. He does not treat her like she needs to be treated, but she still manages to be around him and love him. Many does not see how much Esh really loves him. He just do not want to see it.
    The Bastile family have had many obstacles thrown at their feet but they still are a family. They love each other more than words can describe. Not only were they in Hurricane Katrina, they also had problems like poverty, pregnancy, and life itself.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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