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It is to these statistics that Jesmyn Ward attempts to give both humanity and context in her memoir, in which she relates the unconnected deaths in the space of just four years of five young men who were close to her. This book is not for the light-hearted. There's a suicide, two car accidents, a drug overdose and a shooting: tragic tales of young people's lives cut short are interwoven with the disintegration of Ward's parents' marriage and her own sense of drift and isolation.

The audiobook version of Jesmyn Ward's memoir does perfect justice to the beautiful original

She understands this. Melancholic and introspective rather than morbid and self-indulgent, it is really a story of what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America's deep south. There is weed, alcohol, crushes and cliques as well as addiction, poverty, divorce and destitution. It's a coming-of-age memoir detailing a generation and community in which death, dysfunction and detention are ever-present facts of life.

Michael Sam , for instance, the year-old black college footballer from southeast Texas who recently came out as gay, was one of eight children.

Men We Reaped Background | GradeSaver

After Demond Cook, a year-old friend, is shot dead on his front lawn, the fourth to fall in as many years, she sits with his young widow thinking: "I'm only 26 … I'm tired of this shit. A central character in the book is the Mississippi gulf coast, where Ward spent most of her childhood and youth. The book's structure, however, hollows out much of its emotional impact. So when she writes: "I hope nobody died this summer", it doesn't quite connect, and the shock of her brother's accident is diminished.

The morbid realities of young black life in America, hidden in plain sight, are not just marginalised: they are disappeared by the very social ills — poor education, incarceration, death and exclusion — that created them. Conversations often went until sunrise, fueled by drugs, cigarettes, beer and frustrations about a town where opportunity was limited and the barriers of race and class were all-too-apparent.

It would be nice to live in the Bay Area. But if California freed me, it also made me feel like an alien. DeLisle is my center. She would come over with a bag of videos, play with my oldest daughter, talk about obscure rap songs with my husband, cook dinner with us and gossip until 3 a.


Jesmyn Ward talks about racism, family, and the brave memoir that healed her

She strives to show how her stories and her people fit into a broader history of racism and the South. Her work is more personal than that, too full of love and humor, but she also carries a responsibility to the people she writes about.

She captures the goofy, high spirits of playtime with friends, the pleasures of exploring the surrounding woods, the savor of home cooked meals, and the devil-may-care charms of her errant father. In the case of her parents, the story led to divorce and lingering pain: her father chasing failed dreams and younger women; her mother erecting emotional walls while struggling to support her family as a maid. And she shows a similar grasp in writing about the five young men that she lost to drugs, suicide, car accidents and gunplay.

In the headlines, such men often are reduced to case studies. Things just happened in order, but I was afraid to explore why they happened," Ward said.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – review

I went through every page, trying to explain everyone's behavior — and my own behavior, too. Nothing could help me, and nothing could help the poor people dying around me.

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Despite all that, Ward survived to tell her story — and the story of her community. She credits the example of her mother — and the hope kindled by the birth of her daughter. She talks about the salvation that she found in books and learning — a passion that nothing has extinguished.

Past Lingers in Present, and the Sorrows Go On

My despair came from childhood assumptions that no amount of encouraging could erase. But I could always read.

And I learned to write. And I know that writing can make the world a better place for my daughter.

Men We Reaped & The Hate Race - Non-fiction Book Reviews

Event: Ward is coming to New Orleans as part of a city national book tour.