, January 01, 2013
When I finished this book, I felt like my life was better for having read it. Honestly. I picked it up because it won the 2011 National Book Award. The first chapter failed to fully grab me, but I persevered. From there, I was drawn completely into the lives of 15-year old Esch and her brothers, family, and neighbors. I could not put the book down; the final third I read standing up as I never actually made it to the chair I intended to sit in.
In short, I have never encountered a character like the character of Esch; so close to who I am and yet so different. I think that this is the mark of genius in Jesmyn Ward. It was as if she took a group of people from the television news of Hurricane Katrina, standing on the bridge or stuck in an evacuation center, and picked the ones that would be most likely to be ignored, disregarded, or used as negative examples, and then proceeds to make you understand them, one by one, and even to start to love some of them. This all happens seamlessly, almost while you aren't paying attention, because you are compelled by the hurricane and the crescendo pitch that Ward build. It is a beautiful, moving, thrilling story.