Reviewed by Leila Green
Sing, Unburied, Sing is essentially a story about a parallel journey: one takes place in the present, one takes place in the past. In the present, a drug-addicted mother named Leonie takes her children, three year old Kayla and 13 year old Jojo, on a long car ride up to Parchman—a viscous Mississippi prison—to pick up her just-released boyfriend. Leonie abuses her children, and she also has a complicated relationship with her parents. Her father is also tormented by Parchman, and her mother is dying. Throughout the car ride and the story, the past bleeds into the present. The ghosts of Parchman haunt Jojo and his grandfather. And a ghost from Leonie's past haunts her, too.
This story wonders what happens when the dead don't reconcile with earthly wounds. It also wonders what happens when we don't reconcile with the dead. What Ward argues is that these time-separated journeys aren't distinct from each other; they are happening at the same time. Her writing style is incredibly lyrical and vivid. Her writing adds living texture to the story. Ward summons the spiritual world, fashioning ghosts as natural consequences of history. I loved this book. I mostly loved Ward's portrayal of boyhood. Jojo clung so awkwardly and tenderly to his youth. He was a sentimental, emotional boy. It reminded me of how men should be allowed to stay that way. I loved how the book was a compact, perfectly weaved tale. I loved the way she made the past indistinct from the present. And I love how she payed homage to all the Black people who've been murdered in this country. All those lynched, beat, maimed. Millions. We can't forget them, their blood or their songs.
If you combined Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Walker's The Color Purple, and added a sprinkle of Toni Morrison's Beloved, you would have this book. It was really a magical, awe-inspiring, and soul-quenching read. 5/5 stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️