Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a brutally honest, raw, emotional, eye-opening and powerful story about a poor black family living in Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina heads their way. The main character of the book is a fourteen year old heroine named Esch. She lives in a rundown shack on a piece of property they call The Pit with her three brothers and her father. Their mother died seven years ago giving birth to the youngest son, Junior. The father is an absent alcoholic who is often angry and drunk. The siblings are close and have pretty much raised their little brother Junior and themselves.
Esch discovers very early on in the book that she is pregnant by the boy she is in love with, one of her brother’s friends, Manny. He is definitely not in love with her and has a girlfriend and Esch is heartbroken about it. I felt so bad for her, being a poor, lonely, fourteen year old girl with a dead mother and low self esteem going through the devastating news she’s pregnant alone.
There were a lot of times in the book where I really wished I could look away but couldn’t. There are some bad dog fighting scenes. Skeeter, the oldest brother has a pit bull named China that he enters in brutal dog fighting contests. He loves this dog more than anything and I could not believe he would put her through such a thing. China has just had puppies and Skeeter spends all his time taking care of her and the newborn puppies. China is a big part of the story.
Near the end of the book, Hurricane Katrina arrives, bringing complete destruction and devastation. The family barely survives. The author gives us a very up close and personal look at what the victims of hurricane Katrina had to go through.
Ward’s writing at times was very poetic: “His skin was the color of fresh-cut wood at the heart of a pine tree.” “The terrible truth of what I am flares like a dry fall fire in my stomach, eating all the fallen pine needles.” “The sky burst to color above us, and then the sun sank through the trees so that the color ran out of the sky like water out of a drain and left the sky bleached white to navy to dark.” “To give life is to know what’s worth fighting for. And what’s love.” There were so many lovely passages.
Parts of the book were a little difficult to read and when the book ends you don’t quite know the fate of everyone. Overall, it was a very good book, just not for the faint of heart.