Salvage the Bones: A Novel

by Jesmyn Ward

Hardcover, 2011




Bloomsbury USA (2011), Edition: 1, 261 pages


Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.


½ (672 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
A hurricane is building over the Gulf but the poor, hardscrabble residents of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi have seen it all before so they know what to expect. The only difference this time is the name: Katrina and she’s barreling towards them like a speeding freight train. Much like the pregnancy
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growing inside fourteen year old Esch, that consumes pretty much her every thought and keeps bringing to mind her favorite Greek myth about doomed lovers Medea and Jason.

And this is Esch’s story to tell. Her older brother Randall, is hoping desperately for a look from basketball scouts that would assure him a college education and her younger brother Skeetah’s main devotion is to his fighting dog China and her newborn pups, and six year old Junior was last born and all that remains of his mother’s pregnancy, as she died shortly after his birth. Thoughts of their beloved mother are never far from their thoughts as she is missed terribly. Their father vacillates between drunkenness and anger and provides little to no fathering to his brood.

Ward manages to vacillate between grittiness and soulfulness. And brilliantly the narrative fluctuates between thoughtful reflection and driving momentum until the hurricane passes. The prose is poetic but the subject matter, for the most part, is stark and unsentimental. Esch longs for the father of her unborn child, Manny, to love her and dreams of a loving relationship with him but knows, in reality, that will never happen. Randall sees his dreams of a basketball scholarship go up in smoke and Skeetah realizes his chances of having half a dozen pups to sell are diminishing by the minute and he foolishly forces the lactating China to fight. This might be a good time to mention that if you’re squeamish about dog fighting you might want to skip this book. I’m a dog lover and I thought the depiction of China killing her own pup was more disturbing than the dogs fighting, but for others the dog fighting might be too distasteful.

But although this is a book of metaphors and hidden meanings it can certainly be enjoyed on the surface, for what it is: a story about poverty in the rural south during the time of a devastating hurricane. The themes of the nearness of death and the love of brothers are powerful indeed and are presented with distinct aplomb. And the devastation of Katrina will not be forgotten.

”I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
I was apprehensive about reading this book as I'd heard rumours about the dog-fighting, and thought that I might struggle with those scenes. But in the end, rather than being shocked by the dog-fighting, what I found truly shocking was the extreme poverty and lack of opportunity which was the lot
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of the poor black Batiste family who are at the centre of this novel.

Esch Batiste is fifteen years old and pregnant: she tries to keep her nausea and ever bursting bladder from her family. Her mother died during the birth of her younger brother Junior, leaving the family to the care of their alcoholic and neglectful father, and the care of Junior has fallen almost exclusively on the older children. The eldest brother Randall is desperate to get the basketball scholarship that will take him out of The Pit, the run-down and scrap covered piece of land where the Batiste family live. The second brother Skeetah lives only for his prized pit bull China, a beautiful white dog who has defeated all the local dogs in the fights run by the local boys. And in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, as the father tries to prepare for the approaching storm, both Esch and Skeetah have their own battles. Skeetah that of trying to keep China's new puppies alive, when he can't afford the medication that they need, while Esch tries to get Manny, her baby's father, to notice her.

I found this book heart-breaking in many respects: these teenagers have been failed by so many people, even ultimately by their own mother, whose refusal to have medical assistance when giving birth to Junior in all likelihood led to her death. Day to day life is such a struggle with little money for food, and less for the hurricane supplies that they desperately need. I found that even Skeetah's fighting of his beloved China became almost understandable: her prowess in fighting provides him with the only thing in his life that he can be proud about.

Not knowing much about the American South outside the period of segregation and civil rights, one thing that surprised me on reading Salvage the Bones was what completely separate lives the Batistes led from their white neighbours. And the conditions in which they lived seemed not to belong to the twenty-first century, or even the late twentieth, but to an earlier period.

So a book that is highly recommended, and one which drew me in almost as if I were reading about real people.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
"Seeing him broke the cocoon of my rib cage, and my heart unfurled to fly." (page 4-5)

I had originally rated this 4.5 stars because there were a few flaws in it, but going back and re-reading parts and knowing how much I loved this story, it just felt wrong not to give it a full 5. I connected with
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it on a level I had not expected and was so very moved by it. What is more deserving of five stars than a book like that?

Searing. Brutal. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Powerful. Painful. Hopeful. I could just string some adjectives together and be done with it, but this book deserves so much more. And I won't do it justice. I will say that putting aside the particular circumstances and specifics of the story - poverty, race, Katrina, dog fighting, neglect and all sorts of other horrors - this book is about family. How we hold it together, depend on it, make it up as we go, and create ones where none exist. All you really need to know is that 15 year old Esch is motherless and pregnant. Those two facts are the bookends of the story - everything else happens within that context. Motherhood can be both beautiful and brutal. Esch has warm memories of her own mother who died when she was eight; now she is pregnant and her only model of what a mother is comes from her brother's fighting pit bull who just birthed a litter of puppies. We want so badly for something good to happen for Esch but she is repeatedly beaten down by both the cruelty of her circumstances and the cruelty of the father of her baby. And then the hurricane comes...

Please read this book.

"When she died, Mama told me that she had gone away, and then I wondered where she went. Because everyone else was crying, I clung like a monkey to Mama, my legs and arms wrapped around her softness, and I cried, love running through me like a hard, blinding summer rain. And then Mama died, and there was no one left for me to hold on to." (page 59)
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This novel is not about Katrina, but it's set in a coastal Mississippi during the days leading up to Katrina. It's about a family living in the wretched grip of deep poverty, and their fierce love, unflinching loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice for one another. Fifteen-year-old Esch and her
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three brothers live with their heavy-drinking, competent, stubborn, and under-resourced father. Randall, the oldest, wants to be a basketball start. Skeetah, the next in line, has a pit dog named China (and China has puppies), and Junior, the little one, is just there for and with everyone. Their mother died when he was born and her presence continues to permeate the family culture. Oh, and Esch is pregnant. As they prepare for yet another hurricane (and we know it's going to be a doozy long before they know it), we witness their efforts to scratch out a living. Optimism and hope aren't even part of the conversation (although there is a shared commitment to helping Randall get to basketball camp).

The dog fight scene about halfway through left my stomach sour and my teeth on edge. It was one of the most painful chapters of a novel that I've ever read. But the story is so beautiful and the writing is exquisite. Describing the dead mother's reaction to catching a shark on a fishing trip: "She coaxed it to death. And when it gave up, she hauled it in and let out a laugh that swooped up into the sky with the pelicans and flew away, wind-ready and wide as their wings." Or describing the woods: "A cloud passes over the sun, and it is dark under the trees. It passes, and the gold melts through the leaves, falls on bark and floor: foil coins." Nice.

If you can manage the vivid description of the dog fight, I highly recommend this moving and powerful novel of family and survival.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
In Salvage the Bones, Ward tells us about twelve days in the life of Esch, a fifteen-year-old girl growing up in a coastal town in Mississippi. We see the typical, everyday events of her life - helping her brother Skeetah care for a litter of puppies, watching her brother Randall play basketball,
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and caring for her younger brother Junior. But through these events, I got to know Esch so well that I felt like I had crawled inside her skin. And because of the relationship I developed with her, I was affected deeply by the challenges that faced her in this story - an alcoholic father, an approaching hurricane, and the growing knowledge that her life is about to change. While Esch is the focus of the book, the supporting characters are also vibrant and crystal clear. Ward has written a book that is layered - a coming-of-age story, a portrait of a family, a look into a region and a way of life. For me, this book was a surprise that transported me to another place, inside another person.

I recommend this book highly, but I do have to warn you that there is a chapter about a dog fight that was very difficult for me to read. I think that the intensity of the chapter illustrates the author's skill, but that didn't make it any less difficult to read.
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LibraryThing member spacecommuter
It's hard to love a frank and terribly sad book like this, but there is much to appreciate about it. It looks honestly at grinding rural poverty in the Gulf before Katrina, poverty so all encompassing that the thought of evacuating never even occurred to them, much like Gloria Steinem's proverbial
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fish never contemplated the potential conveniences of a bicycle.

The neglect these characters face is heartbreaking - the children's father has done so little for them since their mother died. At a time when each of his children is in crisis - Randall, the eldest, is trying to earn a scholarship to a basketball camp that could give him a future, Skeetah is straining under the weight of holding the family together, Esch, 14, is pregnant and the father of the baby rejects her cruelly throughout the book, and Junior, 8, is desperate for a parent to protect him. Through all of this, their father drinks around the clock and obsesses over preparing for a Hurricane that will tear through his efforts in seconds when the storm finally comes. He could have put all that energy into helping his children instead.

The failure of the children's father and the father of Esch's baby is contrasted with the almost mythical feats of fatherhood Skeet shows towards his pit bull's litter of puppies. He steals for her and her puppies, nurses all of them, never lets his attention drift from them, lashes their mother to his body when the waters come. Though the book graphically - and positively - depicts dogfighting, which I found morally offensive, I do understand why its here. From a literary perspective, it's a depiction of the strength and power of fatherhood to prepare children for a harsh life - rather than weakness, true fatherhood is the best preparation for the harships of life a child (or pitbull) could possibly get. Skeet is an incredible foil for the failed fathers of Esch and her baby. It's also an unspoken commentary that though the absence of fatherhood is one of the hallmarks of extreme poverty, the instincts still dwell within these men, and can be found again.

A thought I had several weeks after reading this book: Many of the scenes in the book are of the children surrounding Skeet as he tends to the litter of puppies - quietly revealing their unconscious craving for parenting themselves.

The author dips heavily into her pregnancy journal for long early parts of the book, writing almost fetishistically about the main character's first trimester...for me it was all a bit gross and self-reverential but it's meant to give teenage girls like the main character something to think about.

It's written in High School English Literary style, just begging to be added to mandatory reading lists around the country. And there are tons of allegories, metaphors and references to the myth of Jason and Medea to keep decades of high school students busy writing book reports.

This is the third postdelluvian Katrina book I've received from Early Reviewers, and it is by far the best. The almost torturous 10-chapter buildup before we see Skeet -- and Katrina -- emerge fully-developed and alive was worth it in the end.
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LibraryThing member fuzzy_patters
Salvage the Bones centers on the character, Esch, who is a teenage girl in a family full of boys, one of whom, Skeetah, raises a fighting pitbull named China. The novel begins with China giving birth, which mirrors the seminal moment in the family’s life, when their mother died giving birth to
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her youngest son, Junior. Adding to the emotional tension Esch’s pregnancy with another Manny’s child. Esch is in love with Manny even though he is bad for her and is with another girl. This drama is set against the backdrop of the impending hurricane Katrina.

One of the things that made me like this book was how morally ambiguous it is. None of the characters are right or wrong. They are all just people with human motivations and follies. The closest that we come to a sense of right or wrong is that Manny comes off as an insensitive jerk at times, but even he has redeeming qualities, which become evident towards the end of the book.

I also loved the creative symmetry of the novel. The author, Jesmyn Ward, opens the novel with China giving birth. At the end of the novel, the focus is on the future and Esch’s pregnancy. At the novel’s climax, Hurricane Katrina is compared to a mother, and the memory of Esch’s mother who died giving birth permeates the novel. The idea of what it means to be a mother and the idea that a mother can be strong as well as nurturing is consistent throughout the novel. As a counterpoint, Big Henry, the largest male in the novel, is the most nurturing character, which again challenges the typical role of the mother as the nurturer and the father as the sense of strength. Again, this adds to the humanity of the characters and the depth of the novel.

I really liked this novel. It was enjoyable to read, and at times it made me think a bit about cultural attitudes, poverty, and what it must be like to go through a disaster. Ward manages to create empathy in the reader by portraying such human characters, which is admirable. I thought this all made for a very good book.
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LibraryThing member KingRat
Salvage The Bones is another book I picked up through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. I grabbed this for two reasons: it has an awesome cover, and the novel is a little different than what I normally read. The week after I received it, Ms. Ward read at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle, so I
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attended. Due to traffic, I arrived about 15 minutes late and missed the reading portion, if there was one. Ms. Ward was answering questions posed by about six people. None were actually about the book, since no one had read it yet. 60 days later, a lot of people were reading Salvage The Bones; it won the National Book Award.

Salvage The Bones is a first person account of twelve days in the life of a poor rural black family in Mississippi leading up to Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005. The jacket copy hypes the hurricane, but the characters don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the upcoming storm. Their lives revolve around family, dogs, and surviving. The narrator, an adolescent teen girl named Esch, also must come to terms with her possible pregnancy and the one man who could be the father of her child. Hurricane Katrina is a huge event, but this is not a story about surviving against the elements. It’s more of a story about surviving against the totality of their environment.

I actually read the book months ago, but I’ve been struggling with this review, irrespective of my travel schedule. It’s very well written, the characters are engaging, and the kind of people portrayed are a worthy story to tell. All the way through the book I was impressed with so much, and yet I just didn’t enjoy the book overall. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I haven’t made a whole lot of progress.

It isn’t a problem with the characters. I loved them. Esch’s brother Skeetah keeps a dog for fighting. And even though dog fighting pisses me off, his obstinate pursuit of whatever he thinks his dog needs is noble. When Skeetah brings Esch along to steal cow dewormer from a neighbor’s barn, I was rooting for him.

What I’m wondering is if I was wanting them to succeed too much. Salvage The Bones does not tell a story of success. The books tells a story of survival. The family survives in the face of Hurricane Katrina. They endure through debilitating poverty. They’ve already withstood the tragic death of their mother. Ms. Ward doesn’t turn this into an unlikely story of thriving against the odds. I wanted so much for good things to happen for them, but that never comes. I think it would have been wrong, and disappointing in another way.

The best analogy that I have is various friends of mine who haven’t succeeded. It is so tough to watch their continual struggles and be able to do nothing to help them. Sometimes, I’ve had to distance myself because participating in their lives became too painful. I felt similarly for Esch. Bad shit was going to happen. The words are fixed; I can’t help her. So I’m stuck riding along with her life, so to speak. It’s not pleasant to be powerless to help the powerless. In the real world, ugly suffering is something I have the luxury of facing when I want to usually. Reading through Salvage The Bones reminded me just how much of an option that is for me.

It’s a pleasure to read the story. At the same time, Salvage The Bones is tough for the very same reasons.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the
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murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes. – from Salvage the Bones -

Esch is fourteen and pregnant, living with her brothers and her father on a hardscrabble piece of land they call “The Pit” in the small, coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Left motherless when their mother died giving birth to Junior, who is now seven years old, the siblings are fiercely loyal to each other. Skeetah, devoted to his fighting dog, China, is determined to stand up to their father – a man who has been mostly absent and drunk, and can become volatile and abusive.

He reaches to grab Skeetah’s arm, to pull him to standing and then shove him, probably. This is what he does when he wants to manhandle, humiliate; he pulls one of us toward him, shakes, and then shoves us hard backward so that we fall in the dirt. So that we sprawl like toddlers learning to walk: dirt on our faces and our hands, faces wet with crying or mucus, ashamed. – from Salvage the Bones -

Randall, the eldest boy, longs to find his way out of The Pit through his skill as a basketball player. Junior, too young to fully understand the family dynamics, clings to Randall. Junior’s innocence, his childish body and desperate longing for attention, are heartbreaking.

Sometimes I wonder if Junior remembers anything, or if his head is like a colander, and the memories of who bottle-fed him, who licked his tears, who mothered him, squeeze through the metal like water to run down the drain, and only leave the present day, his sand holes, his shirtless bird chest, Randall yelling at him: his present washed clean of memory like vegetables washed clean of the dirt they grow in. – from Salvage the Bones -

Salvage the Bones is narrated in the observant voice of Esch in the ten days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, culminating in the storm and its aftermath. The novel opens with the birth of China’s puppies – creatures which represent money and prestige to Skeetah. As with all the characters in the book, the puppies are born into a world which challenges their very survival…and China, muscular and bred to fight, is far from a competent mother.

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. – from Salvage the Bones -

Jesmyn Ward’s writing is breathtaking, raw and completely honest. She portrays a family who is somehow surviving against all odds – ragtag, poor, and with only each other to depend upon. China takes center stage in a novel about determination and fighting for one’s life. She is sleek, muscular and focused. China’s heart belongs only to Skeetah, a young boy who has mastered a brutish beast with a penchant for killing. China’s presence is both a representation of loyalty and love, and a sinister threat – the siblings constantly admonish Junior to stay away from her, she is not allowed in the house, and Randall (a fit and toned athlete) is frightened of her. Against the backdrop of China is the myth of Medea. Esch is reading Medea’s story and the themes of betrayal, suffering, and injured love are strong in the novel. In the Greek play, Medea seeks vengeance against the father of her children when he betrays her love. Medea’s jealously is violent and murderous – and her story weaves in and out of Salvage the Bone, giving the novel a dark and foreboding feel.

Salvage the Bones is like nothing I have ever read before. I found it hard to tear myself away from these characters whose lives were so fragile and yet were defined by an inner strength which was both admirable and grim. Ward’s ability to draw the reader into a world which is sad, brutal and nearly hopeless, speaks volumes about her talent. Because, despite the bleakness, the novel allows for a glimmer of something which could be called hope. There is something remarkable about Esch, Skeetah, Randall and Junior – their fierce protection of each other, the love that surfaces through the dirt and despair of their lives, and the determination to find the light in the darkness.

Salvage the Bones is stunning, beautiful, tragic, heartbreaking, and wholly absorbing. Readers should be warned – Ward includes scenes of dog fights, and it is difficult to read – but, it is not gratuitous. China’s story is as much a part of the novel as the stories of Esch, Randall, Skeetah and Junior…in fact, China’s story provides the structure from which all of the other stories spool out.

Salvage the Bones is an original, beautifully wrought piece of literary fiction.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member aliciamay
This novel takes place in a coastal town of Mississippi days before Hurricane Katrina. The main character Esch is a fourteen year old girl, growing up in a motherless impoverished home with a drunken father, three brothers, and a fighting pit bull. She has recently discovered she is pregnant and
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although she is in love with the father, he does not acknowledge her existence in public.

The writing was beautiful but I often found it to be contrived or it seemed that the author was trying too hard to be good. My other main quibble is the ‘between the lines’ comparison of China (the pit bull) and Esch. Yes, both females were pregnant (China had a rather graphic birthing scene in the first chapter), but it seemed to me that Esch was holding up China and Skeetah’s relationship as the Holy Grail example of love (Skeetah is Esch’s older brother and China’s owner). And whenever that aspect was brought to the fore front of the book I had a big “What the what?!?” going through my head. Not that there was any bestiality and there were some sweet scenes displaying Skeetah’s care and concern for China, but he raised her to fight. Is this really the best relationship Esch has ever witnessed? I thought the most compelling aspect of the book was the bond between the siblings and the loyalty and love they showed to each other.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“She left us as dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”

A storm is coming. Esch is fifteen and she lives with her three brothers in
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the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. They struggle along the poverty line but live a simple, content life. The father, a single parent, is an alcoholic but is a decent provider.
This story covers the twelve days leading to Katrina, as the family tries to prepare, made difficult by the sudden news of Esch’s pregnancy. Dog-fighting is also a major part of this tale, beautifully rendered but also brutal and graphic, so be forewarned.
Ward’s prose is strong, deft and vivid. She captures the hard beauty of a family dealing with everyday life and an oncoming catastrophe.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
There are some real poetic words of beauty and reflection amidst severe poverty and abuse in this novel. However, overall, it is a pretty grim look at poor choices people continue to make, and how it affects their lives, and just keeps continuing through generations. The protagonist is Esch, a
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15-year-old pregnant girl who with very little emotion, has sex with all the neighborhood boys because "it's easier than not." There is one boy, Manny, she claims she loves, and that apparently is the father to her child. He is a big jerk and her brother's "best friend." The unreality is that Esch claims that she is so close to her brothers, Skeetah, Randall and Junior, but everyone knows this is going on and ignores it. The Father is a drunken mess who borders on abusive, but is mostly just pathetic and useless. The other core element is the rural world of Pit Bull fighting and Skeetah's relationship with his fighting dog, China, who gives birth to a litter of pups at the beginning of the novel. We are supposed to see that he has a love "like no other" for his dog (and this goes on and on and on - the love being compared to mythology, other people, etc.), yet he abuses her almost non stop to get her to "mind him" and "not forget." His desire is to make sure the pups don't die because they are worth $200 a piece. He fights China, even right after giving birth, to prove God knows what. That she is the toughest of all tough dogs? I guess it is a powerplay by the powerless, but it got really old. I see this all around in humane association work and it shed no new light on the problem, other than it destroys a lot of animals. It is merely thugs trying to look cool with their fighting dogs and make money off the puppies. I don't know, this novel did not work for me, although it was an easy, rather repetitive read. It had a drone-like quality. Apparently, this is also a book about hurricane Katrina, but that is tacked on at the end of the book and there is nothing much said there, other than people did not believe it was happening. And then it happend.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
A tough, beautiful novel about people living on the edge ---the edge of poverty, of society, of survival. This story is as powerful as Hurricane Katrina, which features prominently in it. Good fortune is not something the Batiste family knows much about. Fifteen-year-old Esch, the narrator of the
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story, has seen a lot of life’s troubles already, having lost her mother when she was 8, and having shouldered much of the responsibility of raising her baby brother Junior, who we suspect has suffered some brain injury during the birth that caused their mother’s death. Esch has been sexually active for 2 or 3 years, finding it easier to let her older brother’s friends do what they want than to fight them off. Her only dreams are centered on Manny, a scarred but handsome young man we know will never fulfill them. Esch’s brothers, Randall and Skeetah, each have their own dreams: Randall wants to go to basketball camp where he hopes a scout may see him play and open the door to college. Skeetah has a fierce love for his fighting dog, China, and her first litter of pups. Daddy, when not entirely incapacitated by drink, is obsessed with preparing for the big storm he instinctively knows is coming. The family subsists on canned meat, Ramen noodles, rice, and eggs gathered from their free-roaming chickens. Mama kept a small vegetable garden, but no one else has taken the trouble to keep it up since she died. These are strong people, extremely self-reliant, with not a shred of self-pity evident. If this were not true, their lives would be unbearable, not just for them, but for us to read about. It still requires some of the detachment you would bring to Greek tragedy, but If you can manage that, you’re in for a profound reading experience.

I will add the caveat most reviewers have felt necessary: If you simply cannot stomach reading about bad things happening to animals, give this one a pass.
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LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
Salvage the Bones is about a family living in Mississippi in 2005 as Katrina is getting ready to hit. The focus is on Esch being pregnant, her brothers, dog fighting, her alcoholic that sometimes there father and the impending hurricane in the Gulf. The kids mother died giving birth to the youngest
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child and they have pretty much been left to fend for themselves making them a close knit family. I went in expecting the book to be more about the family preparing, fighting and surviving the hurricane and it isn’t, it was still a good read, but I was looking forward to that based on the description. Some scenes are hard to read, like puppies being born, dog fights, and detailed injuries. They are hard to read because they are well written to the point it makes you cringe. With that said, I did not like the dog fighting parts. There was some glamorizing of it and that annoyed me. I’m giving it three stars because it was an interesting read, but I think there was just too much going on to make it an emotional read. It was almost there, but not quite.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
I think this would easily go in my top ten books.

The story is told by 15 year old Esch, the only girl in a dirt-poor family in coastal Mississippi. On day 1 of the story, her brother's pit bull China has puppies, and Esch discovers that she is pregnant. Over the course of the story one bad thing
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after another happens to Esch and her family, culminating with Hurricane Katrina striking on day 11. But in an odd sort of way, I would call this a "feel good" book. In spite of all the tragedy, the main feeling I carried away from the book was love. The love between Esch and her brother Skeetah, between a boy and his dog. Between 6 year old Junior and his oldest brother Randall. Between Daddy, who has no idea how to express his love, and his children. Between Big Henry, and the family. It was a story that shows that love can prevail, no matter how bad things get.

Ward's writing style is gorgeous too. I read "Where the Line Bleeds" when it first came out a few years ago. I was working at a Barnes & Noble at the time, and I told my coworkers and customers that this was an author to watch. She was THAT good. For anyone who has read her first book, you'll appreciate the one sentence mention that the protagonists of that book get in Salvage the Bones.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
Fifteen year old Esch just found she’s pregnant. She keeps this secret to herself while watching her brother Skeetah take care of his prize dog-fighting pit bull China, who just had puppies. Her oldest brother Randall struggles to take care of the family while their alcoholic father tries to
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prepare for a coming hurricane. Their mother died giving birth to their youngest brother Junior and the family’s life in rural Mississippi has been extra hard ever since.

This book was beautiful and raw, both uplifting and upsetting. It was a wonderful story about survival in the midst of poverty and adversity. Every character is really well-developed. I was both sympathetic to and frustrated with most of them at one time or the other. This novel is told in the first person by Esch and takes place over the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. As the storm grows closer, the tension builds. The descriptions are so vivid; it felt like I was there with them. I could not put this book down for the last two chapters as the storm grew closer.

I’m not the only who loved this book – it’s a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction this year. (Winners will be announced November 16.)
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LibraryThing member MissReadsTooMuch
Jesmyn Ward has written a lyrical, compelling novel that I couldn't help but finish, even though the story was one I really didn't want to read. It wasn't that I want to hide from the ugly bits of life - there was just so much of it, in such a complacent, accepted way. Still, the characters were
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very authentic feeling and there were moments of hope and love hidden in the midst of problem after problem. I recommend it but not as a beach book, especially not as a beach book, given the hurricane part.
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LibraryThing member TiffanyHickox
Poetic in her metaphors and voice, Jesmyn Ward delivers the impoverished south to the feet of Hurricane Katrina with so much grace and literary poise that readers will embrace the encroaching destruction with open arms.

Set on the Gulf Coast in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi during the ten days leading
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up to Hurricane Katrina, readers find themselves introduced to the Batiste family, the poorest of the poor black families living on land that has become a haven for broken down cars and discarded appliances. The widowed alcoholic father known as "Daddy", the graceful athletic oldest brother Randall, the gritty dog fighting Skeet and his pit bull China, and curious seven-year-old Junior are all drawn to life through the narration of Esch, a promiscuous fifteen-year-old girl who finds herself pregnant and without hope. As the storm approaces, it becomes evident that their love and need for each other is the only thing that enables them to survive.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
Esch Batiste is a 14 year old girl who lives in a rural town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast along with her father Claude and her three brothers, Randall, Skeetah and Junior, who was named for his father after his mother died soon after giving birth to him. The kids are mainly left to fend for
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themselves, subsisting on Ramen noodles, bologna and the hidden chicken eggs they gather, as their father often drunk, hostile and emotionally distant from them. Each of them has a main focus, which serves as an escape from poverty and hopelessness: Randall seeks a college scholarship to play basketball; Skeetah owns a mother pit bull named China, whose puppies he plans to raise and sell for dogfighting; Esch is obsessed with Manny, a boy who desires her sexually but does not love her; and Junior, the youngest, tirelessly seeks the attention of his siblings, mainly by annoying the heck out of them.

It is the summer of 2005, the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season, and a storm named Katrina slowly gathers strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Claude obsessively follows news reports the path of the hurricane, but his pleas to his children to make preparations for this storm mainly fall on deaf ears, as they are distracted by their own hopes and desires, and doubt that this storm will be any different than any of the other ones they and previous generations of Batistes have lived through. Claude decides that they should ride out the storm, despite the mandatory evacuation warning, a decision they will all regret once Katrina makes landfall.

Esch, the precocious and sensitive narrator of this story, identifies herself with Medea, the wife of the Greek mythic hero Medea, and with Skeetah's dog China, who is tender toward her owner and her pups, but fights ferociously and relentlessly against anyone who opposes her.

Salvage the Bones is an unblinking and unforgettable coming of age novel about the despair of the lives of an impoverished rural family in the Deep South, whose disparate members are often at odds with each other, yet their fierce devotion to each other binds them together in moments of crisis. This novel may not be appropriate for some readers, due to its vivid description of dogfighting, but I would highly recommend it to everyone else.
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LibraryThing member amyshaff
I had a hard time reading this book. I was waiting for Katrina to hit the coast but found the descriptions of the dog raising and dog fighting to be brutal subject matter and tough to get through. Despite my squeamishness, it's a powerful coming of age story about a pregnant teenager who discovers
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her own power and voice in a world that's been ravaged by poverty, addiction and epic destruction by hurricane Katrina in the bayou of Louisiana
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
I can't say I wasn't warned. Many reviews about Salvage The Bones advised animal lovers not to read this book because of its dog fighting theme. Yes, I was warned, but I wanted to read it anyway. Set in the American South at the brink of Hurricane Katrina, the story was right in my wheelhouse. I
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figured I could skip the dog fighting scenes - and I did, but it wasn't enough.

Why? Simply put - it wasn't just about the dog fighting scenes or the breeding of pit bull puppies to be fighters (though both incidents are frightful enough). My issue is this: I never got the sense that Jesmyn Ward was condemning dog fighting. I couldn't find an underlying message that spoke against this cruelty.

I am assuming Ward included dog fighting in Salvage The Bones because it's a popular past time in certain pockets of the American South. But the animal lover in me wonders what's the point. Did it strengthen the story? Make the family's plight more deplorable? I don't think it did. And with the absence of a strong message that condemns dog fighting, I wonder why you need it.

Now don't get me wrong. I am sure Jesmyn Ward isn't for dog fighting. I just wish she made dog fighting an allegorical theme.

The rest of the book was good. The characters were complex and believable. Their lives of poverty were startling. The effects of Katrina were devastating. Yes, everything else about Salvage The Bones was spot on. But the dog fighting was too much for me.

So, heed my warning. Don't read this book if you hate dog fighting, if you are against breeding dogs to fight and are tired of pit bulls being used in this manner. Salvage The Bones will not be the book for you - just like it wasn't the book for me.
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LibraryThing member Meganelise1
It's just so good.
LibraryThing member icolford
Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for fiction, Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones tells the story of 15-year-old Esch Batiste, whose family lives in poverty on a junk-strewn patch of dirt in the town of Bois Sauvage, in Gulf Coast Mississippi. The story takes place in the days leading up
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to Hurricane Katrina, and in the storm’s immediate aftermath. Esch’s mother is dead and her father, his spirit broken, has become a shiftless and occasionally violent drunk, so the care and feeding of Esch, her older brothers Skeetah and Randall, and younger brother Junior, is pretty much left to the children themselves. Though toughened by adversity and a hardscrabble existence, they have not yet become cynical and bitter, and all of them live in hope of something better. Randall is working toward a basketball scholarship. Skeetah’s pit bull China has just given birth to a litter of puppies that he hopes to sell. However, Esch’s situation is precarious and dangerous. Since the age of twelve she has been having sex with her brothers’ friends (because it’s easier to let them have their way than to try to get them to stop) and she’s recently discovered that she’s pregnant, a fact that she’s trying to hide from everyone, though she can no longer hide it from herself. The action centres on tensions that arise among the children and their friends, tensions that culminate in a skirmish at a basketball game and again at an arranged dogfight, a harrowing and savage contest that the reader will not be inclined to linger over but also not quickly forget. All along, their father, listening to radio reports, has been telling them that a storm is approaching, but it’s only when the outward signs are present and undeniable (the rising wind, the disappearing birds) that the children start to heed his warnings and make preparations. The hurricane scene, vividly rendered and relentlessly gripping, pushes that narrative tension to an excruciating level. Afterward, as the characters emerge from their ruined homes and take in the destruction and what it means, the reader shares their confusion and heartbreak. Though it is certainly true that Salvage the Bones is about the resilience of the human spirit, it also about love and loyalty and the ties that bind us, one to another; it is about want and need and ordinary human kindness. Addressing a catastrophic event that caused hundreds of fatalities, affected countless lives, changed government policy, and etched an indelible place for itself in the cultural lore of the southern United States, Esch’s narrative has an almost mythic quality to it, partly because we know what’s coming, partly because of her private pain and the firmness of her resolve to survive and protect her family from harm come hell or high water. Jesmyn Ward's second novel is one of those rare works of fiction that uses the experience of a small group of people to make a universal statement. Little wonder it has achieved classic status in only a few years.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
I have no problem recommending this National Book Award winner to anyone. It takes place in a small Mississippi Gulf Coast town over the 10 or so days as Hurricane Katrina is building in the coast. The characters are real and endearing. Esch, the 14 year old narrator, is the surrogate mother for
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her three brothers (Their mother died giving birth to the youngest brother; the two other brothers are older than Esch). She is grappling with the fact that she may be pregnant. Her oldest brother Randall is a high school basketball star who lacks the means to go to an important basketball camp. Skeetah has a pitbull named China, who has just given birth to a litter of puppies. Despite his clearly conveyed deep love for his dog, Skeetah endangers her in brutal pitbull dog fights. He hopes to win the funds to allow Randall to attend the basketball camp. The youngest child, Junior, just wants to make sure that he doesn't miss out on anything.

The hurricane remains in the background for much of the book. The children are vaguely aware that it is out there, but are not at all apprehensive. Ward, however, skillfully builds the tension each day, to the point that I began to wonder how she was ever going to pull off the drama of the storm itself. Needless to say, she did.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a powerful story about a poor Mississippi black family living in Bayou country as Hurricane Katrina gathers itself to strike. The main character is fourteen year old teenager Esch, who lives in a rundown shack on a piece of property they call The Pit. Esch lives
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with her three brothers and her father, their mother died seven years ago giving birth to the youngest son. The father works at odd jobs and nurses his anger with alcohol. The children are close, but have been left to raise themselves. Esch has a secret, she is pregnant. The father is one of her brother’s friends, Manny, whom she thinks she loves. But Manny is simply using her and really wants nothing to do with her. Alone, fearful and afraid to let her family know she is pregnant, she tries to hide it.

Another important element to the story is China, a white pit bull that one of her brothers has raised, loves and uses in dogfights. A word of warning, if the idea of dogfights and cruelty to animals upsets you, than this is probably not a story that you should read. I found that the story was told so realistically and openly that judgments really had no place. This is their life.

Meanwhile Katrina is lurking on the horizon, and although we know with hindsight how life changing this storm was, the vivid description was mesmerizing. Salvage the Bones is a big-hearted story about family that is told in almost musical prose. The author’s vision and passion delivers a magical story of love and caring that no amount of poverty change erase.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

261 p.; 8.56 inches


1608195228 / 9781608195220
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