Firstly, let me toot my horn for a moment. I set a goal this year to read 34 books and this is my 34th review. (Insert trumpeting sounds). Huzzah! Now, on to the book.
I saw this book posted on the CBR Facebook page as part of a combo review of book award winners from a fellow Cannonballer. During a brief stop into the library I saw it on the new books shelf and though I did not judge a book by its cover I did recognize it by its cover, so I grabbed it on a whim, not really knowing what it was about. It would be a challenge to say I liked this book because it was filled with sadness and trials, but I will say that it is a good book, and one I am glad to have read during the holiday season.
Jojo is trying to make his way in the world as a young black man in a bleak existence. He lives with his grandparents, his grandmother is dying, and his mother is a sporadic influence, showing a predilection for drugs and selfishness. His father is getting out of prison, and they (he, his mother, and his baby sister) take a trip to pick him up at Parchman Penitentiary. Along the way we learn of his grandfather’s past as an inmate at Parchman, and how he is haunted by his actions. All of this is set in present day Mississippi where racial disparity and racism are certainly not a thing of the past.
This book frequently jumps in point of view, each chapter is titled and narrated from a different character. As a device that could provide for a disjointed experience for the reader, but Ward weaves together the narrative well, providing for a 360 degree view of what is happening, and what has happened. Leonie is a very unlikable character, but by seeing her narrate at times we also have sympathy for her.
I’m still not sure how I felt about some of the mystical elements, but overall this was a well thought out and engrossing novel. It was interesting to read during the holiday season, when I am filled with thankfulness and anticipation of joy and gifts to come. To read about a family and a boy getting by with so little, and the promise of a future with much of the same, gave me feelings of guilt, but also appreciation for what I have.