Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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Summary

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a 2017 coming-of-age novel by Jesmyn Ward. Rotating through the perspectives of several characters, it chronicles the relationships of a family in the fictitious Mississippian town of Bois Sauvage. On a boy named Jojo's thirteenth birthday, he struggles to kill a goat and believes he is failing to become a man. His grandfather, Pop, tells him to story of how he went to jail at age fifteen with his brother, Stag, after trying to intervene in a bar fight. Meanwhile, Jojo's mother, Leonie, learns that her reckless boyfriend Michael is coming home from Parchman. Jojo distrusts Leonie because she neglects the responsibilities of being a mother and is overly attached to Michael.

The family goes on a dysfunctional road trip and are joined by Misty, Leonie's friend from work. The trip culminates in Leonie swallowing meth to evade a cop. Then, the spirit of a boy named Richie appears to Jojo and states that he was killed while on the run from Parchman. While Richie was in jail with Pop, an inmate named Blue raped a woman as Richie stumbled upon them. The two escaped with each other, but Blue tried to rape someone else while on the run. Richie stopped him, but they were then found by a group of murderous white men trying to capture them. They skinned Blue alive, but Pop intervened before Richie befell the same fate, stabbing him in the neck.

After he tells Jojo the story of Richie's death, Pop begins to cry and Richie's spirit disappears. He reappears in the form of Leonie's dead brother, Given, and tries to take Mam to the afterlife as revenge for his own untimely death. Jojo and Leonie succeed in getting Mam to recognize that Given is possessed. In the end, however, she follows the real Given to the afterlife and dies. Michael returns and runs off with Leonie to get high.

The novel ends from Jojo's point of view. He states that he now sleeps in Leonie's bed, since Leonie and Michael are rarely home. Pop continues searching for Mam and speaks restlessly in his sleep. Jojo is unable to see the spirits of Mam and Given, but still sees Richie, as well as other spirits who died violently. Kayla tries to banish them without avail, then breaks out into song, and gives them relief from their pain.