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Last Updated on February 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1043


Jesmyn Ward’s third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, was published in 2017. Rotating through the perspectives of several characters, it chronicles the relationships of a dysfunctional family in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Blending the mythical with the real, it explores themes surrounding race, family, love, and death. Sing, Unburied, Sing received positive reviews from critics and went on to receive numerous accolades, including the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction.

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Plot Summary

On Jojo's thirteenth birthday, he helps his grandfather, Pop, kill a goat. Over goat stew that night, Pop tells him the story of how he went to jail at age fifteen when his brother, Stag, got into a bar fight; the cops arrested them both because of their race. In jail, Pop met a twelve-year-old boy named Richie, whom he befriended and tried his best to protect. Meanwhile, Jojo's mother, Leonie, learns that Michael, her longtime boyfriend and the father of her children, is being released from Parchman prison after serving a three-year sentence for cooking meth. Jojo distrusts Leonie, because she is a drug addict who neglects the responsibilities of being a mother. Leonie’s irresponsibility and neglect have forced Jojo to act as a parent to his younger sister, Kayla.

After Leonie argues with Pop and Mam over whether she should bring the children along to pick up Michael, she sets out for Parchman with Jojo and Kayla. She hopes that by bringing the children to pick up their father, they can be a family again. They are joined by Leonie’s coworker and fellow drug addict Misty, whose boyfriend is also at Parchman. On the way, they take a detour to Misty’s friend’s house, where they are given a bag of meth. Misty, who has experience running drugs, reassures a nervous Leonie that everything will be fine. They successfully deliver the meth to Michael’s lawyer, Al, who gives them food and lets them stay the night in his home. The next day, they arrive at Parchman and pick up Michael. Leonie greets him warmly, but Jojo and Kayla are unable to view him as a father since he has been such an inconsistent figure in their lives.

As the group leaves Parchman, Richie’s ghost appears to Jojo and states that he was killed while on the run from the prison. Richie recognizes Jojo as Pop’s descendant, and his memories of the events surrounding his death slowly begin to return. However, he is unable to recall exactly how he died and hopes that by following Jojo home, he will be able to find answers.

The trip home is uncomfortable for everyone; Leonie and Michael grow increasingly frustrated with Jojo and Kayla, who do not respect them as parents. They are forced to stay the night at Al’s house again after Kayla vomits in the car. They depart the next day, and Al gives Michael a portion of the meth that Misty and Leonie delivered on their first visit. Once they are back on the road, the group is pulled over by a police officer, and knowing they don’t have time to hide the meth, Leonie swallows all of it. The officer, after hearing that the group is coming from Parchman, handcuffs Leonie, Michael, and Jojo. Things escalate when Jojo reaches into his pocket and the officer assumes he is pulling out a weapon. He forces Jojo onto the ground and points a gun at him, to everyone else’s shock and horror. The situation is resolved when Kayla vomits again and cries out for Jojo, leading the officer to search Jojo’s pockets and realize that all he had was a rock. Leonie quickly becomes ill as a result of the swallowed meth, and Misty and Michael worriedly feed her charcoal and milk until she finally throws it up.

After returning to the house, the group finds that Mam and Pop are not there. Michael insists on taking the kids to visit his parents, who disapprove of Leonie...

(The entire section contains 1043 words.)

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