A 2017 National Book Award for Fiction winner, Sing, Unburied, Sing tells the story of a family haunted by demons over several generations. Jojo, a biracial boy who turns 13 at the beginning of the novel, has been forced to grow up fast. He nurtures and cares for his toddler sister Kayla because his mother, Leonie, is saddled with her own problems. She is a drug addict and her husband, Michael, is incarcerated. Her brother was murdered as a teen by a group of white boys who framed it as a hunting accident. When she gets high, Leonie can see the ghost of her dead brother.
Word gets out that Michael is to be released from the the state prison. Leonie packs up the family, picks up her friend and drives upstate to get him. As they make their way to the penitentiary, the group becomes increasingly sick, hot and miserable. It’s rare that an author punctuates scenes with so much vomit and sweat, but Ward’s raw words emphasize the hopelessness of the situation. The trip has all the elements of Southern Gothic writing: poverty and violence, flawed characters, and barren landscapes. It reads a lot like Flanner O’Connor’s short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find.
Sing, Unburied, Sing sheds light on the inheritance of struggles from one generation to the next. Reading about this level of ugliness is uncomfortable, which is exactly why it should be read.