Chapter 1 Summary
“The First Day: Birth in a Bare-Bulb Place”
China, the pit bull, has gone into labor, but she looks nothing like Esch’s mother looked when she was giving birth to Esch's youngest sibling, Junior. Mama had given birth to all four children right there in the house. Esch was only eight at the time so she was of no help to her mother, but Mama had told everyone that she did not need any help. Daddy said that Esch and her two older brothers, Randall and Skeetah, had been easy births, but Junior’s birth was hard. He came into the world purple and blue, and Mama did not want to go to the hospital. Later, Daddy dragged her to the truck to take her anyway, and the children never saw her again. Now, as China suffers in labor, the only person she will let near her is sixteen-year-old Skeetah, who tries to keep her relaxed. Skeetah had her mated with a male pit bull that Manny’s cousin enters into illegal dogfights. China births her first puppy, a large, reddish-orange male that Skeetah says will one day be a killer. The next one comes out backward, a white puppy with black spots. His tongue sticks out—he is dead. The next three are birthed without incident, and when they think she is done, China gets up and goes to the corner of the shed. She spills the afterbirth, and when she walks away, Skeetah sees something moving. A brindle-colored runt has come out last, and luckily, the puppy is breathing.
Outside, Daddy gets the house ready for possible hurricanes, because in summer there are always hurricanes. He can feel a storm coming. He sends Junior under the house to fetch jugs so that they can be filled with water. Meanwhile, Manny arrives at the house—he is nineteen, two years older than Randall—and the two shoot basketball together. While the boys play, Daddy tells Esch to wash the bottles, but one breaks in her hand, and the blood mingles in the puddled water near her feet. She wants Manny to see her, but does not want him to think her helpless. It is her brother Randall who comes to her aid. Later, she takes the broken bottle pieces out to the Pit to be burned with the family’s other trash. Her family inherited the land there in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, from her mother’s parents, Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph. Papa Joseph used to sell earth from his land until the Pit grew to the size of a pond, and then he and Mother Lizbeth farmed the land. Now, the land is overgrown. At the Pit, Manny...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
“The Second Day: Hidden Eggs”
The morning after China gives birth, Esch wakes to the sound of hammering. Skeetah is outside building a kennel for the puppies—he is amazed that China gave birth to five living puppies and wants to see them thrive. Skeetah does not want to abandon the task, so Esch goes off alone to look for breakfast. Her mother taught her how to scan the yard for hidden eggs, but for Esch, the task is still hard work that requires concentration. Esch thinks that the only two things that have ever been easy for her to do are swimming and sex. She lost her virginity at age twelve to Skeetah’s best friend, Marquise, in the backseat of her father’s dump truck. She learned to swim when she was six—her father had picked her up and thrown her in the Pit, but she did not get pulled down by the water and used her limbs to stay on the surface.
At the breakfast table, Junior is pouting because he does not want to eat the eggs and prefers to eat dry noodles. Esch takes out the plate of eggs to Skeetah so that China can eat them instead. Esch notices that the dog’s teats look like human breasts, and suddenly she runs outside the shed and vomits in the dirt.
Later, Big Henry arrives and Daddy tries to scam beer off him. Skeetah comes from the shed and says that he needs to buy dog food, so Big Henry offers a ride and Esch tags along with them. They go to the grocery store in St. Catherine, which is packed with people buying provisions for the impending hurricane. Inside, Esch sneaks off to hide a pregnancy test in the band of her shorts, and Skeetah broods over the dog food; he must get the most expensive brand. On the way home, the trio witnesses a car accident. A man has run his car into a tree, and a woman is lying on the road like she is sleeping. The man appears disoriented, so Big Henry offers assistance. He takes the man’s cellular telephone to give directions to the 911 operator, who asks him to remain at the scene until help arrives. Skeetah is angry. He assumes the man and the woman are having an affair and therefore not worthy of their help; besides, he wants to return to help China with her puppies. Big Henry makes them stay.
At home, Esch thanks Big Henry for the ride. In the bathroom, Esch runs water for the tub and pees on the stick of the pregnancy test. She sets it on the edge of the tub as she climbs in, careful not to knock it into the water. The...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
“The Third Day: Sickness in the Dirt”
Esch tries hard to sleep, but the truth of her pregnancy keeps her awake. Right now, pregnancy means vomiting from the minute Esch wakes up in the morning. She hugs the toilet while her brothers scream at her from outside the bathroom door. She tells them that she is shaving her legs and hopes that they do not notice her condition. Esch goes back to bed, and her father never sends one of her brothers to wake her so that she can prepare the family for the hurricane. She wonders what all the men are up to this morning. Then Skeetah appears in the door, and Esch knows that something is wrong. She follows him out to the shed, where one of the puppies is not eating with the rest. Skeetah tries to move the puppy closer to China so that it can nurse, but China growls and bites at the puppy. Esch says that the mother must know that something is wrong, and Skeetah suspects that the puppy has picked up parvo. Skeetah decides to separate the puppy from the rest of the litter to protect the healthy ones, and he asks Esch if she will help him when the time comes. Esch agrees. Skeetah steals some of the hurricane provisions from the kitchen and packs them for the night’s trip into the woods to kill and bury the puppy.
Skeetah, Randall, and Esch enter the woods and find the makeshift barbecue pit that they made when they were younger. They set out supplies, and Skeetah decides that they need more food, so he shoots a squirrel with his BB gun. Randall refuses to clean the squirrel, so Skeetah does, but he accidentally nips the intestines. The smell forces Esch into the bushes to vomit. While the meat is cooking, Marquise, Big Henry, and Manny arrive. Esch comments that Skeetah never named the puppy, so he tells her to give it a name. She chooses Nella. Manny says that they should kill the puppy now to save it from suffering. Skeetah grabs the puppy’s head and twists, swiftly breaking its neck the way his mother used to kill chickens.
Afterward, Skeetah takes off his clothes and gets into the water of the Pit to wash the contamination off him. The others soon follow. Naked in the water, Manny approaches Esch, takes her hand and puts it on his penis. Esch looks at his lips and wonders why he never kisses her the way she has seen him kiss another girl. With her other hand, she reaches for his chest, but Manny pulls away. He says her name like he is disappointed, asks...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
“The Fourth Day: Worth Stealing”
There are fleas everywhere as Esch walks toward Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph’s house. Little is left of the porch to the house, and overall, the house is dilapidated. Mama had tried to keep the house a shrine, but the increasing needs of their own family forced her and Daddy to pilfer items from inside the house. Esch finds Skeetah there pulling up linoleum tiles from the kitchen floor. He says that he needs to build a floor for the puppies because the parvo must be in the dirt. They soon hear Daddy’s tractor approaching, so Skeetah throws the tiles out the window where they will not be seen. When Daddy enters, he makes Esch boost Skeetah up to the rafters to take down plywood to use against the upcoming storms.
Skeetah asks Esch to help him with an important task, and when she agrees, he tells her that they are going into the woods to the east where a small house and old barn belonging to a white family are located. Skeetah found the place one day when they were playing chase in the woods, and he knows that the family keeps cows and supplies in the barn. He is on a mission to steal cow wormer to help the puppies. Skeetah and Esch change into camouflaged clothes and jog out to the barn. The two watch the house for movement and determine that no one is home. Skeetah tells Esch to keep watch and to whistle if she sees a car or a person approaching. Then they see someone in a nearby cove of trees—Randall, Junior, and Big Henry have followed them. Randall gets Skeetah to tell him his plan, and only when Skeetah says that he plans to use some of the money from the sale of the puppies to put Randall through basketball camp does the elder brother submit. Randall also takes up a watch post, while Big Henry takes Junior back into the woods.
Skeetah breaks a window and climbs into the barn. Outside, Esch is consumed by an intense need to go to the bathroom, so she squats at her post. Just then, Randall whistles, and she looks up to see a truck pulling into the driveway. The man’s dog is barking behind the window. Esch whistles too. Skeetah falls headfirst out the window, and the man and dog get out of the truck. The dog gives chase, and the man is yelling, “Hey!” Esch, Skeetah, and Randall run toward home, the dog on their heels. Esch knows that she should be running faster, but her pregnancy betrays her. They make it home, and China hears the other...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
“The Fifth Day: Salvage the Bones”
In the morning, Esch bursts into the bathroom, her need to pee intense. Skeetah stands shirtless at the sink, gently tracing wounds on his stomach. He tells Esch that he was cut on the window glass while hurrying from the barn. Skeetah picks up an old Ace bandage that he has cleaned and bleached and tries to wrap it around himself. Esch takes the bandage to help him. While she wraps him up, Esch notices that Skeetah smells like wind over the Gulf of Mexico, and this makes her think about times past when her father took them swimming there. They dug up oysters and watched the pelicans floating on the water. Once when Mama went along, she caught a shark, which she cooked that night in butter. Esch finishes wrapping, and Skeetah tells her that she ran slowly the day before in the woods. Esch wonders what her pregnant body looks like to others, so when Skeetah leaves the bathroom, she hoists herself onto the sink so that she can see herself in the mirror. There is a “honeydew curve” under her belly button. Her T-shirts and loose jeans and shorts cover the bulge, and Esch plans to not tell anyone until it can no longer be avoided.
Outside, Esch’s father is underneath his dump truck trying to fix the broken parts. Junior sits next to him to hand over tools. Daddy wants the help of the other boys, but Esch says that she does not know where her brothers are. He makes her get into the truck to try to start the engine. After several tries and more tinkering, the truck still will not start. Daddy does not know how he will make money after the hurricane without the dump truck to haul away garbage and debris for others.
Skeetah brings China out of the shed because he thinks she needs time to herself away from the puppies. Manny is there, and Skeetah tells him that he plans to take China to the upcoming dogfights so that no one forgets that she is a “boss” dog. Manny says that his cousin will bring his dog, Rico, to fight. Esch looks at Manny hoping that he will return her gaze, but he never looks at her. Manny says that China is not as boss as she used to be, but Skeetah claims that since she is now a mother, she is as tough as she will ever be. Esch asks Skeetah if he has wormed China yet, and when Manny hears that Skeetah has not properly mixed the medicine, he warns him that he needs to cut it with oil before giving it to the dog. At home, Skeetah mixes the...
(The entire section is 630 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
"The Sixth Day: A Steady Hand"
Daddy is outside knocking down what is left of the chicken coop. Skeetah spent the night in the shed after he and Daddy fought last night, and Esch is sitting on the sofa waiting for Skeetah to come inside through the front door to avoid seeing Daddy in the back yard. While she waits, Esch sneaks into the bathroom to devour cans of Vienna sausages from the hurricane stockpile. Eventually she gets tired of waiting and goes out to the shed. China rests her head on her paws while the puppies suckle, and Skeetah says that he knows something is wrong with the dog because she is being so mild-tempered. Esch assures him that Manny gave him the right advice about the wormer and suggests that he go inside to bathe. After some hesitation, Skeetah decides to go and asks her to watch the dogs. Junior creeps into the shed, fascinated with the puppies. Even though Esch warns him away, Junior gets close enough to grab one of the puppies. Esch grips one of his arms and digs her nails into his flesh until he cries and drops the puppy. She apologizes and promises to take him to play in the park.
When Skeetah returns, he puts the puppies in a box and forces China to her feet. She is shaking, but Skeetah says that she needs to walk, so he puts her on her leash and practically drags her down the street. Esch runs to catch up to them, and Junior follows on his bicycle. They walk to the park where Manny is playing basketball—watching from the stands are his girlfriend Shaliyah and her cousin Felicia. Randall and his friends are on the court too, and Esch sits in the grass on the outside of the court. Skeetah runs China around the track while the others continue to play basketball. When the game is over, Manny goes to the stands to flirt with Shaliyah, and Big Henry walks over to Esch to ask her if she wants to sit in his car, which is parked in the shade. When the sun begins to set, Big Henry piles everyone else into the car, and he drives them home following Skeetah and China.
At home, the puppies are whining for milk, and Daddy is still trying to dismantle the chicken coop. He screams for Randall to help. The storm now has a name—“Katrina”—and Daddy says they must be ready. He tells Randall to get inside the tractor to drive while he directs him towards the coop. In the shed, China lies down exhausted, but Skeetah says that she must eat and shoves a bowl of food in her...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
“The Seventh Day: Game Dogs and Game Men”
All the kids except Skeetah get into Big Henry’s car to go to the hospital. Daddy sits in the front seat, his hand wrapped in a blood-soaked towel. When the nurse sees the stream of blood from Daddy’s hand, she asks him his name and whisks him away in a wheelchair. At three o’clock in the morning, Randall and Daddy come down the hall; Daddy’s eyes are glazed like they are when he is drunk. His hand is wrapped in gauze and tape. At home, Daddy sleeps like he has not slept since Mama died. Esch takes soup and crackers into his room; he nibbles the crackers while watching television. Daddy then asks Esch to play with the antenna, and soon they are able to watch the local news station that reports Katrina’s landfall in Florida. Around the room are family pictures that have been up ever since Mama was still alive, and on the television, the reporter says that preparation for the storm is key. Outside, Esch can hear Skeetah and China coming through the woods. China howls and all the other dogs in the area howl with her.
Randall’s basketball game is today, and he is outside dribbling the ball and bouncing it against the house. China is barking, and when Skeetah comes inside, he says that China has forgotten that he is her master. He has placed her on a chain and says that he will leave her there until she figures it out. Later, Big Henry and Marquise arrive to drive everyone to the game. Big Henry asks Esch if she thinks that Randall is ready, and she tells him that her brother has been practicing all day. Daddy is asleep when they leave for the game, and Esch leaves him water and crackers.
The gymnasium at St. Catherine’s Elementary School is dark when they arrive, and Randall goes onto the court to practice drills. Junior wants to go to the concession stand, so Big Henry gives him some money. He asks Esch if she wants something too, but she says that she just needs to go to the bathroom. On her way out, Esch bumps into Manny’s cousin, Rico. Manny and Shaliyah are also there, looking fresh from the barbershop. Esch veers around them and runs to the bathroom. Inside, Esch takes the farthest stall and cries while sitting with her face pressed against her knees. When she opens the stall door, Manny is standing inside the bathroom. He says that he has been thinking about her before he pushes Esch back into the stall. He then takes off her...
(The entire section is 670 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
“The Eighth Day: Make Them Know”
The next morning, Junior tries to get Esch out of bed but she rolls away from him, feeling the hurt of the day before. Still he pesters her—Skeetah has said that Junior cannot go to the dog-fight unless Esch takes him. Esch gets up and Junior tells her that Randall made Daddy’s breakfast earlier that morning. In Daddy’s room, a map of the hurricane is on the television screen and two cans of beer are on the nightstand next to the bed. Junior follows Esch and she tells him that they can go see the dog-fight. Outside, Skeetah is bathing China, who recognizes her master. Randall is outside too, arguing with Skeetah about his behavior during the game. Skeetah says that Randall had no right to make an offer to Rico, but Randall says that Skeetah ruined his chances of getting into basketball camp so he did what was necessary. When Skeetah is done bathing China, she is blindingly white.
China leads the way on the trail through the woods until they reach a clearing that appears to be a dried-up pond. Many boys are there with their dogs. They smoke and ask each other questions about their dogs. Marquise introduces them to his cousin Jerome whose dog Boss will fight Kilo on China’s behalf. Boss is all black with a white muzzle, and he is huge. The dog’s hair is coarse and marred with scars from previous fights. On the other side of the clearing, Rico’s dog Kilo is straining at the leash and digging into the dirt. Jerome is confident that Boss is ready for the fight. The dog-masters leave the leashes in the hands of friends while they enter the circle of the clearing. Rico only intends for Kilo to fight Boss in the last match. Skeetah and China stand off to the side, surveying the clearing. Skeetah fought China when she turned one year old, and she often won by grabbing the throat of another dog and holding tight until the dog yelped. The other dogs appear to be afraid of her—none come over to sniff her or mouth her shoulder.
The first fight is quick and messy. The others continue until at last, it is Rico’s time to bring Kilo into the clearing. Jerome walks up with Boss and gets him ready. At the call, the two dogs barrel towards each other and clash in the middle. They rise on their hind legs and Boss gets the first bite. After a few more blows, Jerome yells, “Come on, son!” to urge Boss to win, but Boss thinks that his master is calling him back....
(The entire section is 756 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
“The Ninth Day: Hurricane Eclipse”
Esch is woken by the sound of Daddy vomiting in the bathroom. He calls for Randall who is still in his bed. Skeetah is not in the room though. After the dog fight, Skeetah cleaned and treated China’s wounds and must have slept outside in the shed with her. In the bathroom, Daddy tells Randall that he is sick and needs to stay by the toilet, but Randall and Esch carry him back to bed and promise to put a garbage pail next to the bed. Randall searches for Daddy’s medicine and asks him if his hand hurts. Randall tells Daddy that he is not supposed to drink while on his pain medication and antibiotics, but Daddy shakes his head and says that beer is not really like drinking alcohol. He insists that he needs to get the house ready for the hurricane, but Randall says that the kids will take care of the preparations.
Today, the wind is gusting stronger than it has before. Esch goes out to Daddy’s truck and finds a flashlight, drill, hammer, and nails. Skeetah comes out of the shed and says that he cannot help because he needs to keep an eye on China. Randall has turned on the truck’s radio and a news announcer says that Hurricane Katrina has now become a category 3 storm and is scheduled to make landfall in Louisiana sometime Monday morning. Skeetah says that he needs to go to the store for more supplies, and Randall tells him to pick up canned food while he is there. Randall tells Skeetah that they need his help, but Big Henry is already on the way.
Esch needs Junior to pick the nails out of the bin with his small fingers, but he is nowhere to be found. Inside, Esch finds him standing in front of Daddy’s bed. Junior says that Daddy was not breathing. Esch drags Junior down the hall and asks him what he was doing. Junior says that he knows all about Daddy’s sickness, his hand, the beer, and the medicine. Then he tells Esch that he found Daddy’s wedding ring and flings it across the hallway. Junior runs and hides under the house. When Randall finds him, Junior wails that the ring was no longer any good for Daddy and that he wanted to keep it to remind him of his mother. When Randall and Esch tell Skeetah what Junior has done, he laughs and says that his little brother is wild. Esch has put the ring in her top drawer to keep it safe.
The kids busy themselves with carrying out Daddy’s instructions:
(The entire section is 670 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
“The Tenth Day: In the Endless Eye”
Esch eats all of Skeetah’s eggs and bologna because he has stayed outside in the shed with China. Randall curses and throws a can of tomato paste across the room after he counts the meager food supplies that are stored for the family. After breakfast, Esch overhears Randall telling Daddy that they do not have enough food, and Daddy tells him that if they cannot cook during the storm, then they will have to eat the Ramen noodles dry. He adds that they will make do with what they have. He then asks for his wedding ring, and Esch retrieves it from her drawer. He goes back to his room because he is the only one who can stand being inside the boarded-up house; meanwhile, all the children go outside. There is no sun, and the wind blows hard. Skeetah is piling things outside the shed while China chases the chickens. Esch says that they need more food. Randall suggests that they look for more eggs and boil them so that they do not have to go to the refrigerator. Skeetah does not join them because he says that he needs to exercise China. In the woods, the chickens have hidden their eggs away in preparation for the coming storm. Esch thinks back to when her mother taught the kids how to find eggs—Randall finds them in the most difficult places and fills Junior’s shirt with twenty-four eggs to carry home.
As they approach home, Randall, Esch, and Junior meet Manny. He apologizes to Randall for having gotten into a fight with Skeetah. Randall says that Skeetah believes that Manny wanted to poison China and that he is “dogging” Esch. Manny denies it and says that he considers them family. But Randall says that he does not think Manny regards his siblings as family, and he retires to the kitchen. Manny walks away, but Esch calls to him and blurts out that she is pregnant. Manny shakes his head and says that the baby is not his. Esch has always been a fighter; now she pounces on Manny, poking his Adam’s apple and clawing his face. She screams that she once loved him; in defense, he calls her crazy. Manny then grabs Esch under her arms and flings her backward. Manny calls her a slut and says that even her brothers know that she has slept with every boy in the Pit. Esch tells him that when the baby is born, the truth will be known.
Randall later finds Esch sitting in the ditch. She is crying, but she says that nothing is wrong when he asks her. He says that...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
“The Eleventh Day: Katrina”
Esch wonders where all the animals go when hurricanes occur. She used to think that all the animals ran away, but now she thinks that the small animals just hunker down in their homes to wait out the storms. The telephone always rings on the day before a hurricane to play a message from the state government encouraging evacuation and warning residents about the potential consequences of staying in the area during a hurricane. The hurricane becomes real when people realize that they could die during the storm. The worst hurricane that Esch remembers, Hurricane Elaine, a category 3, happened when she was eight years old. Randall and Daddy slept through the storm, but Skeetah and Esch had sat up with Mama in the living room, watching the trees blow in the wind from the slits between the boards over the windows. Now, the house is quiet because the power has gone out. Esch is the first to wake, and she sits and listens to the howling wind that makes the house creak. All is gray outside. Skeetah wakes, and Esch asks him if he is scared. He says that he is not because they are not on the bay where he thinks the storm will be the worst. Esch recalls that Mama said the wind howled this way during Hurricane Camille, another category 5 storm. Skeetah asks Esch if she remembers the last thing that Mama said to her. She cannot, so Skeetah reminds her, “Look after each other.”
The kids sit near the window trying to find the source of a dog’s frantic barking outside. China squeals and looks at the ceiling moments before a loud boom rocks the house. A tree has fallen onto the house and protrudes into Daddy’s room. Daddy takes a plastic bag of pictures out of his dresser and stuffs it down his pants before leaving the room. The family huddles in the living room as the storms whips outside. A while later, Randall accuses Junior of peeing on himself, but then all realize that water is coming up through the floorboards. They look outside and see a pool of water in the yard—the Pit has overflowed. The water creeps up the family’s legs, and Daddy says that they must get into the attic. All clamor up the stairs, and Skeetah shuts the door behind them. Daddy says that the water has never come back this far from the Pit before. The water and wind beat off the thin roof, and Randall says that he once heard about a family drowning in their attic during a storm. Soon water comes through the...
(The entire section is 693 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
“The Twelfth Day: Alive”
The family sits in the attic of Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph's house until the wind quiets and water recedes. Esch scoots past everyone to get to Skeetah who is sitting near a gap in the roof. He looks outside like he wants to jump. Esch touches him between his shoulders, and his skin is hot to the touch. He jerks but does not look at her. He says that he has failed China, but Esch reminds him that he did not fail his family. He starts to shake, and Esch tightly embraces him. Skeetah says that as soon as the water gets down to the middle of the tires on the truck outside, he is going to go out to search for China. But he cannot wait that long, and as soon as he sees the first sliver of a tire poke through the water, he goes out through the hole in the window. Daddy and Randall try to stop him, but Skeetah says that China is waiting for him and he cannot be stopped.
When all the water recedes, Daddy’s truck is covered with muddy slime. The family trudges through puddles of cold water that fill the yard and find the back door has been blown open. Inside the house is wet and muddy. They find some food that has been sealed away, and they wrap it up in their shirts. Randall says that they cannot stay in the house and that they need to find better shelter, so they head for Big Henry’s house. The landscape all around is smashed to bits, and when they get to Big Henry’s house, he says that they were lucky that all the trees fell away from their house. He tells them that he and his mother have lots of space in the house and that they are welcome to stay. Across the road, Manny is sitting in a white pickup truck, and he stares across the crowd. Randall asks Esch if he is the father of her baby, and she nods. They walk past without acknowledging him. Big Henry’s mother Ms. Bernadine welcomes them into her home and sets to taking care of them. Esch wonders where Skeetah is and imagines him sitting before a fire waiting for China to come home. Big Henry’s uncle Solly arrives and brings news of the destruction that the hurricane has caused, bridges knocked out and roads full of water. Daddy apologizes to Esch for pushing her into the water during the storm and tells her to make sure she takes care of herself so that the baby is healthy. Esch knows that she will name the baby Rose after her mother if it is a girl and Jason after Skeetah if it is a boy.
(The entire section is 695 words.)