Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

*Does contain some spoilers, sorry, it was unavoidable given the nature of the story and in order to properly convey my thoughts*

I hope it's not too corny to say that I experienced a hurricane of emotions whilst reading Jesmyn Ward's novel Salvage the Bones. 

In Salvage the Bones Ward provides the reader with a snapshot of family life in poverty stricken areas of New Orleans. The story is about one such family in the twelve days leading up to and including Hurricane Katrina.

The protaganist, a young teenage girl named Esch, and her three brothers are being raised by her alcoholic father in their run down house. Her father doesn't work and sometimes is abusive towards her brothers. There's little money for necessities such as food. Instead they live off the land as much as they can and hope that they can make money off the litter of pure bred pit bull terriers one of her older brothers is raising. They steal at times. Significantly to the story, at age fourteen, Esch finds herself pregnant. 

The picture Ward paints is a bleak one, and at times I found it to be quite an assault on the emotions.

At other times however, particularly in the middle of the book, I found that the story moved a little too slowly for my liking. The book is primarily an account of the daily activities of the family. So much of their time in the days leading up Hurrican Katrina was dedicated to raising the pit bull terrier pups they hoped to sell, and as someone not particularly interested in dog rearing my attention wandered. 

Just as I was really hoping for something more interesting to happen, Hurricane Katrina hit. From this point in the story the pace became so fast and the tension kept mounting and mounting as the water climbed and the storm raged on. I was reading so fast to match the pace of the events that sometimes I lost track of where I was on the page.

So, although some of the book I found to be quite slow, in the end I think that Ward effectively used the contrast in the pace of the book as a technique to really show the calm before the storm. Just as life for the real victims of Hurricane Katrina continued as usual in the days leading up to the hurricane, with all the mundaneness of daily life, so did the lives of Esch and her family, that is, until the hurricane hit and wiped everything out.

I didn't feel that Ward was too melodramatic about the damage caused by the hurricane. She presents it very calmly:
"We reach the end of the road. Here the hurricane has ripped even the road that rimmed the beach away in chunchs so there are red clay and oyster shell cliffs. The gas station, the yacht club, and all the white columned homes that faced the beach, that made us feel small and dirty and poorer than ever when we came here with daddy, piled in his truck, for gas or chips or bait on our swimming days, are gone. The hurricane as left a few steel beams, which stick up like stray hairs, from concrete foundations. There are rivers running down the highway that lines the beach. A man with white hair and an open button-down shirt is sitting on the arm of the sofa, and he is holding his head or he is rubbing his eyes or he is smoothing his hair or he is crying, and a dog, orange and large in the sun, is sniffing around him in circles, and then it is running and it is barking excitedly at what it has found. A closed black casket."

I think it's important to note that although the book does describe the devastation following the hurricane, it doesn't address any of the political fall out that occured following the hurricane. For me, the only hint of dissatisfaction with the way in which the Government handled the crisis was in the way in which Ward portrays the automatic phone calls asking residents to evacuate, which were too little too late. 

Instead, Salvage the Bones, focuses on the characters. 

Ward creates a real sense of wildness and need around Esch and her family. She created this by slowly revealing little details that really demonstrated the level of poverty they lived in. Bit by bit we see the dirty sheets, the lack of food, the condemned house. Ward reveals how the children had to raise their younger brother when their mother dies in childbirth. Esch is fourteen years old and has been sexually active since she was twelve for the sake of, by her own admission, some loving affection from other people that she doesn't feel at home. For me, the most poignant moment in the book (which nearly bought me to tears) was when Esch's father apologised to her on discovering that she is going to be a mother.

Yet I rarely felt pity for them because they never felt pity for themselves. Each of them has hope. They accept their reality without letting it depressing them and they make the best of their lives with what they can.

All of the characters are salvaging something. Skeetah, one of Esch's brothers, salvages anything he can for the sake of his dogs; wormer, food, planks of wood. In doing so Skeetah is really attempting to salvage his sense of purpose. They all salvage items from their property in order to prepare for the hurricane, just as everyone who was affected by the hurricane must salvage what they can of their lives. For Junior, one of Esch's brothers, it is memories of his mother that he attempts to salvage throughout the novel.

Motherhood is certainly a recurring theme in Salvage the Bones. Everyone is Esch's family remembers their mother with love. Esch's father is clearly a man devastated by the loss of his wife and the mother of his children. Esch, on the cusp of becoming a mother herself, reflects on the good that her mother did and the big shoes that she and her brothers had to fill when her mother passed away. Ward takes time to show Skeetah's dog China's attempts to be a mother to her new pups, and Skeetah's attempt to take on this roll when China and the pups need him to.

This is all occuring against the backdrop of mother nature, who is impartial to the lives of the people of New Orleans:
"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, th emother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was s torm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut is 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." 
Salvage the Bones is a poignant book about family, love and survival. I would recommend it to anyone.

6 / 8 stars
Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend it.

If you have read Salvage the Bones, I would like to know if your interest waned in the middle of the book, only to be reignited when the Hurricane hit? 

Also, I have read that Jesmyn Ward was criticised for not dealing sufficiently with the political aspects of  Hurricane Katrina, that is (I believe), criticism of the Government's response to the disaster. Do you think that she should have given this issue a larger role in the book?

4 month update of my little man

Here he is, my beautiful baby boy, now 4 months old and enjoying his first coffee (not!). It is perhaps the most wonderful thing in the world being a parent, and at the same time very challenging. I love every minute of it though. 

I am finally starting to read a little more and... shock horror!!! I have actually written a couple of reviews. I've also been spending a little more time reading your posts and I hope to read even more. 

So thanks for hanging around and I hope that everyone is well and happy in their lives. I'm just discovering how wonderful life really can be and I hope everyone else is just as happy as I am :-)

Final thoughts - a cheeky grin from my cheeky little man.

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In Mockingjay, the final instalment of the Hunger Games trilogy, Collins gives us the full scale revolution of the Districts of Panem against the Capitol.

 Katniss plays an integral role in the revolution, although at first she is not convinced that she wants or is even able to take on this role. She soon realises, however, that her needs are not as great as those of Panem and she takes to her role wholeheartedly. Although the love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta is still explored in Mockingjay, it is the themes of oppression and revolution that play a primary role in the story.

I found the plot in Mockingjay more... messy (for want of a better word) than the plots of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. It felt a little as though Collins was trying to fit so many parts of the story into the final book that it became a little chaotic.

Having said that, I so admired the way in which Collins portrayed the revolutionary forces and the Capitol that a little chaos in the plot was soon forgotten.

In Mockingjay, Collins doesn't give us a black and white world. The Capitol is not portrayed as always being in the wrong, just as the revolutionary forces are not portrayed as always being in the right. Both the Capitol and the revolutionary forces use the same media indoctrination techniques as each other to takes their messages to the masses. The revolutionary forces create short video clips, essentially advertisements for the revolution, which they boradcast throughout the country.  To do this, the revolutionary forces send camera crews into real battles, people are dressed in dramatic costumes for effect and great thought is given to setting up 'scenes' that best suit the video clips they are creating. These clips are often as manipulative as the Hunger Games themselves were. In fact, the leaders of the revolutionary forces are shown in the end to be just as power hungry as the leaders in the Capitol.

It is clear in Mockingjay that the desire for power can corrupt the best of people who have the best of intentions, regardless of which side of a conflict they are on, and in showing the extremes that the Capitol and the revolutionary forces are willing to go to in order to manipulate and even harm the populace in the name of their cause, Collins gives the conflict a sense of reality.

I did find that Mockingjay was a little slow to get started, and perhaps a little repitive in the early stages while Katniss was deciding whether she was willing and able to play the part in the revolution that people wished her play. I also thought that Katniss's journey to the Capitol was a little far fetched but then I reminded myself that this was fiction, a YA novel set in a possible future, and so a little bit of implausability could be forgiven.

All the same, there is is something so raw and real about these books that I was unable to put them down. Mockingjay definitely doesn't disappoint as the final instalment in this thrilling trilogy. 

8 / 8
One of the most enjoyable books I have ever read.  Everyone should read it, it is amazing.

What did you think about the final instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy? Did you find it a satsifying end to the story or were you hoping for something different? How realistic did you find Collins portrayal of the social and political revolution that was taking palce in Panem?