Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

By Caitlyn Freeman

Brief Summary:

Set in the fictional impoverished town of Bois, Mississippi, Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward, is a tear-jerking story about the dynamics of a grieving family.  Jojo, the 13-year-old protagonist, is trying to comprehend what it means to be a man. His grandparents, Mam and Pop, serve as the primary caregivers for Jojo and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla. His mother, Leone, who struggles with grief-induced drug addiction, and his incarcerated father, Michael, continually neglect the children. One day, Jojo’s father calls and informs Leone about his release from prison. Leone, her friend Misty, and the children embark on a road trip across the state of Mississippi to retrieve Michael.  Throughout the trip, Jojo is faced with many obstacles and also encounters a ghost who carries dark secrets of his own.


This story will have you on the edge of your seat one minute and sobbing profusely the next. Ward’s book highlights the race and class struggles Jojo and his family encounter as people of color in modern day, rural Mississippi.  


Important character:

This story is told from 3 different character perspectives: Leone, Jojo, and Richie the Ghost.


Jojo (Joseph): An insightful, biracial boy who throughout his journey, learns about his ability to communicate with the “unburied.”


Leone: An African American women in her early 30’s. She is the mother of Jojo and Kayla. She struggles with the loss of her brother and turns to drugs to relieve the pain. Her reckless and negligent behavior builds a rift between her and her children–Jojo doesn’t acknowledge her as “Mom” and chooses to refer to her as Leone.


Pop (River): Former prison inmate and grandfather to the children. Pop is a wholesome man with a dark past. He is the primary and only stable male figure in Jojo’s life. The time the two spend together often consist of farm work and life stories. Pop not only tends to the farm and the children, he also watches over his bedridden wife.


Richie: A 13-year-old prison inmate turned ghost. His disturbing death and unresolved history with Pop result in his “unburied” status. He cannot be at peace until he gets answers about his death.


Favorite Quotes:

“I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight.”


“Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”


“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”


Potential Drawbacks:

This novel contains a few mature scenes, that I wouldn’t recommend to someone who is uncomfortable with sexual references, drug usage, death,  murder, or ghosts. This is a really intense book.


Rating: Mature Audiences.


Overall grade: A+

Sing, Unburied, Sing is an amazing page-turner that will leave you speechless. Ward’s powerful delivery and detailed imagery of the immense pain and hardships the family goes through provides the reader with a front row seat on an emotional roller coaster.


I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of realistic writing. This book will make you laugh, cry, and contemplate everything… with just one page.