Combining a hopeful teenage girl, a prize-winning pitbull, and the hurricane of a lifetime, Jesmyn Ward weaves an unforgettable tale in her heart-wrenching novel “Salvage the Bones.” The story of 15 year-old Esch’s journey to womanhood through the dirt and despair of her Louisiana home, this National Award Winning book will keep readers emotionally hooked from beginning to end.
Residing alone with her father and three brothers, 15-year old Esch is living with responsibility far beyond her years. She regularly takes care of her younger brother Junior and has certain duties as the only woman in the house. To add to the situation, Esch is several months pregnant with a baby that she does not want and has no clue how to take care of—and she is terrified to let anyone else know. The novel reveals Esch’s closest thoughts and deepest fears in the 12 days leading up to the disastrous Hurricane Katrina.
Ward’s story is an incredibly powerful character study, giving Esch and her family enough dimension that it feels as though they could walk right out of the page. Esch herself resembles a lost but hopeful soul, desperately clinging to her favorite storybook characters and the promise of a better future someday. While she makes the rash decisions of a teenage girl, Ward uses her innocence as a representation for all of the children lost to tough home lives. However, the courage she gains throughout the novel shines through and makes her an incredibly dynamic and well-developed character. Esch’s brother, Skeetah, could be an excellent role model and provider, but he chooses to channel his energy into a prize-fighting pitbull while his two younger siblings struggle to put food on the table. Both the horror of the illegal dog fighting and the reality of the children’s situation provide piercing evidence of the desperate situations that exist right here in the country.
While this is a purely fictional piece, “Salvage the Bones” is a voice for many issues impacting children in the United States today. Esch struggles without her mother, and because she lacks a female role model, falls into one bad situation after the next. Her alcoholic father has a few shining moments but mainly spends his days in a whiskey-induced fog. The value of family, the destructive nature of sexual violence, and the cultural divide in America are all explored in “Salvage the Bones.” Ultimately, this novel is a very powerful representation of poverty’s cyclical nature and debilitating impact.
A chapter of “Salvage the Bones” is filled with more hardship than most people come across in a lifetime. However, it is emotionally riveting novels like this that transform a reader and push societal boundaries until something begins to change. Consider picking up a copy of Jesmyn Ward’s masterpiece and experiencing the loyalty of a brother, the fear of surviving a hurricane, and the powerful voice of one little girl. Once readers see the world through Esch’s eyes, it is impossible to remember it any other way.