Tag Archives: Jesmyn Ward

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (3/5)

9 Jan

This book rounded out my unintentional jail series. While none of the speakers in the book went to jail, Michael being released from prison was a major focus of the book so I think it should qualify. I think this is the last in my mini-series but we’ll see. My book club has a knack for prison books lately.

Cover image via Goodreads

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Summary from Goodreads:

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. There was something in it that just didn’t click with me. I’m not sure if it was the audio or the text. I liked the characters and I thought Leonie was especially well described. I think it was the elements of magical realism that were just a bit too much for me (similar to my complaints with The Mortifications). I liked the plot and the way Kayla, Jojo, and Leonie interacted, but when Jojo and Leonie started seeing people, I was a little too skeptical to be swept away. I did like the family unit that was picked apart in this book. Leonie was not the ideal daughter but in her mind, she was still a good mother like her mother had been to her. Having Jojo’s perspective and getting to see what he thought about his mother created good contrast.

Ward created very real characters. The ways she described the characters addicted to drugs was especially powerful. You felt bad for them, they couldn’t help their addictions. The faults in child-rearing and absenteeism were explained away and weren’t their fault. It helped you see how an addict can be out of control and how they don’t view themselves as at fault. Leonie is both sympathetic and culpable which makes the reader struggle with how to feel about her.

Jojo was my favorite character. He came off as much older than he was because of the rough environment he was brought up in and how he had to deal with having a mother who was absent so often. The way he spoke to Kayla was learned from his grandparents who taught him to be a man and a father much too young. Pop was put in a hard place when it came to Jojo and I think he did a great job raising him to be a smart and sensitive boy.

I didn’t relate well to any of the characters and I think that’s what kept me from enjoying the book more. I’m fortunate not to have any addicts in my life that I could compare with Leonie. I’ve never had someone close to me go to jail, either. I’m lucky not to have any severe racists in my family like Big Joseph. I’ve never seen ghosts. The only part that felt somewhat relatable was the long-distance feeling between Leonie and Michael. Their time apart reminded me a bit of when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were living in different states. The way you feel when you see someone you love after so long can’t be compared to many other emotions.

Jesmyn Ward
Image via The Guardian

Leonie’s story was my favorite which surprised me. I didn’t think I’d have a lot of sympathy for the drug-addicted mother but I did. I felt bad for her when she’d see her brother and felt guilty for loving Michael because of his relation to her brother’s killers. I liked how she tried to use her mother’s teachings to help Kayla when she was sick. I felt bad for her that she thought she needed to move drugs to pay for the gas to get her boyfriend from jail. She struck a sympathetic chord with me I didn’t expect and I really liked her in the end.

A lot of Leonie and Jojo’s stories involved the people they saw. The ghosts, you may say. I didn’t like it. I could deal with Leonie seeing her dead brother when she was high, but Jojo seeing his grandpa’s old friend was a bit too much for me. I didn’t like that getting his grandpa’s hard past to light was such a big moment for the book, I thought it took the focus too much away from Jojo and I wanted to focus on him more because he was such an interesting character.

The audiobook was narrated by three people: Rutina Wesley, Chris Chalk, Jr., and Kelvin Harrison. If I’m being honest, I couldn’t tell a difference between the two male narrators, so I can’t say much about their narrations. Wesley was very good. I wonder how much her reading affected my sympathy for Leonie. She gave great weight to Leonie’s voice and made her more sympathetic. She didn’t sound like the stereotypical drug addict. She was profound and philosophical, not things I would normally associate with someone in Leonie’s place. I wanted to hug her so badly!

The role of family in the character’s life was complicated. Pop was more of a father to Jojo than his biological father and his paternal grandfather wanted nothing to do with him. Michael and Leonie weren’t married but they were more important to each other than either of their blood relatives. Leonie’s inability to be a mother tore a rift in her family and Michael wasn’t sure how to fix it. By the end, I wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s no denying that the writing in this book was incredible. I might not have liked all the elements Ward used in it, but the lyricism of her writing and the similies she wrote were amazing. I want my writing to feel as rich as this. You understood how the characters felt and the well of emotions they were struggling to keep bottled for the whole book. The anger and frustration in them were really well done.

I liked the writing, but not the story as much. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward | Savidge Reads
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward | Intellectus Speculativus
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing – TLS | Nothing is Lost

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WWW Wednesday, 25-December-2019 (Merry Christmas!)

25 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ll continue to move through Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley at my slow pace. I’m getting some good advice as I go but nothing earth-shattering so far.
I’m adoring Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and I’m getting as much as possible in between sections of The Dutch House. This is a book club pick for me and I’m getting a little nervous about finishing it in time. I’m not going to complain about the length, though, because I’m adoring it so much.
I finished the second part of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett for my buddy read. We’re doing four sections and we already met to talk about the first part. We’ll meet in early January to discuss the second part. It’s so tempting to speed ahead!
Change of plans for my audiobook. I had a long-term hold on Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys that came in unexpectedly. I started it and should finish it this week; it’s a rather short one. I’m not liking it as much as the last Sepetys book I read, but I still like it.

Recently finished: I wrapped up Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward on audio. It was good, but I didn’t connect with it as much as I’d hoped to. The language was beautiful but I kept thinking about what everything in the book could mean symbolically and it kept me from enjoying the story. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

A few more book reviews are done! I got a review of Derek Palacio’s The Mortifications posted last week. I liked the book enough, but wasn’t blown away by it. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody this week. Again, I liked it, but it came off as very biased and I couldn’t connect with it. Another Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I still think I’ll listen to Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner next. This might be my first book for the 2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge (more to come on that soon!). I don’t have any more books waiting to come in so this should be a safe bet.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 18-December-2019

18 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I keep trucking through Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley. This is about the pace I thought I’d read this book so I’m not upset it’s taking this long. I like the steady drip of YA writing advice and I think it’s helping me keep my books in mind.
I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and The Dutch House. I’m loving Pachinko and I know it’s going to be a slow burn. The characters and the setting are wonderful so far and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of this epic unfolds.
Today is the first buddy-read meeting I have for The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. We read the first five chapters and are having dinner tonight to talk about it. It’s fun to read a book this way with a close friend. I hope we can do more of these in the future.
I should finish Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward this week. Audiobooks going quickly for me now with my commute. I’m still unsure how to feel about this one. The writing is really good and the plot is engaging, but I’m not connecting with it for some reason. I’ll see how it’s going next week.

Recently finished: No books finished this week, but I think that will change next week with how fast I get through audio right now. Stay tuned.

I was able to post three book reviews since last week! I first shared my thoughts on Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie. I adore this series and the characters in it. I can’t wait to get to the next one soon. Four out of Five Stars.
I also posted my review for My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart. I had some issues with this book, honestly. I think I had too high of expectations because I adore Hannah’s YouTube channel so much. Three out of Five Stars.
I also posted a review for Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine. This was my first ARC in a while and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. I’m hopefully going to do an interview with the author in the coming weeks so stay tuned for that. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I plan to pick up Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner still. I think this will be a good audiobook to wrap up the year. Reading about a quilt sounds nice when it’s so cold outside.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 11-December-2019

11 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ve made good progress with Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley. I realized I get an hour for lunch instead of 30 minutes so I’m spending more time reading each day and it’s been really fun. I like using the time in the middle of the day for myself.
I’m adoring Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I can already tell it’s a lovely slow burn that I’ll be happy to be going through for the next few months. With how long it is, I think it will be a close one to have it finished by January.
Part of the reason it will be tight to have it finished in time is that I’m doing a Buddy Read with a good friend of mine for The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. She and I were supposed to see Patchett speak in October but I ended up giving her the wrong date and she wasn’t available on the right one. Doh! I bought her a copy of the book and we’re going to read it in four chunks and discuss it throughout.
I’ve just started Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I’m doing quick work on audiobooks lately so I’m optimistic that this one will be finished very quickly!

Recently finished: I absolutely flew through The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Montey was an amazing example of character voice and the plot was so fun that I was making time to listen to it in even the smallest chunks so I could get further and further through the story. I haven’t had that much fun with a book in a while and it was a very welcome break.

Now that I’m writing real blog posts again, I have at least one book review posted for you all! I reviewed Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins on Monday. I have a lot more reviews to catch up on so expect an outpouring of those over the next few weeks.

Reading Next: It’s been a while since I started the series, but I think my next book would be Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner. This is a fun frontier series that is loosely based on a relative of the author. I think I’ll need an audiobook next so this seems the way to go.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 4-December-2019

4 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m back to Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley now that my vacation is over and I’m reading at lunch again. Maybe this will keep me inspired to submit my first book and keep working on my second? Maybe? I’m hoping it has some unique advice about writing for a YA audience. I’ve been missing that reading so many of these books on craft close to each other.
I started my January book club selection, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s a nice long one so I had to start early! I heard Lee speak at the Midwest Literary Walk this year and my copy is signed! Exciting.
I also started in on The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. I’m excited to wrap up my reading challenge with this one! It’s always nice to get more YA reading in, too!

Recently finished: I finished Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody on the plane home from California. It was terrifying and inspiring at the same time. I hope to watch the movie soon so I can compare the two while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I finished The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman once I started driving to and from work again. This made me look at convicts differently and see them the way the system looks at them. I hear a lot about prison ministries and other programs where volunteers go into prisons and I wonder if I’d be a fit for something like that. I also wonder if I have a skill worth knowing for someone in prison.

Reading Next: My next audiobook is a book club selection, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I have until January to listen to it so I’m not really concerned about getting through it before I need it finished.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!