Reviews for Men We Reaped : A Memoir

Book News Reviews
Author Ward, the first in her family to escape the rural poverty and racism of small-town DeLisle, Mississippi, reflects on the loss of five young Black men of DeLisle, including her beloved brother, over the course of four years, their lives cut short by drugs, violence, and suicide. She travels back in time to their early years to find the roots of destructive patterns, and reflects on the many factors that conspire against Black men in the South. Author Ward's novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award. Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Booklist Reviews 2013 August #1
In four years, five young men dear to Ward died of various causes, from drug overdose to accident to suicide, but the underlying cause of their deaths was a self-destructive spiral born of hopelessness. Surrounded by so much death and sorrow, Ward closely examined the heartbreakingly relentless deathsof her young relatives and friends growing up in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, with few job prospects and little to engage their time and talents other than selling and using drugs and alcohol. She herself had partially escaped, going on to college in Michigan and California; but the pull of close family ties and a deep appreciation of southern culture lured her back each summer. Ward, author of Salvage the Bones (2011), lovingly profiles each of those she lost, including a brother, a cousin, and close friends, and their tragic ends as she weaves her family history and details her own difficulties of breaking away from home and the desperate need to do so. This is beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 May #1
An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones, 2011, etc.). Like the author's novels, this study of life on the margins--of society, of dry land against the bayou, of law--takes place in the stunning tropical heat of southern Mississippi. Her parents had tried to leave there and make new lives in the freedom, vast horizon and open sky of California: "There were no vistas in Mississippi, only dense thickets of trees all around." But they had returned, and in the end, the homecoming broke them apart. Ward observes that the small town of her youth was no New Orleans; there was not much to do there, nor many ennobling prospects. So what do people do in such circumstances? They drink, take drugs, reckon with "the dashed dreams of being a pilot or a doctor," they sink into despair, they die--all things of which Ward writes, achingly, painting portraits of characters such as a young daredevil of a man who proclaimed to anyone who would listen, "I ain't long for this world," and another who shrank into bony nothingness as crack cocaine whittled him away. With more gumption than many, Ward battled not only the indifferent odds of rural poverty, but also the endless racism of her classmates in the school she attended on scholarship, where the only other person of color, a Chinese girl, called blacks "scoobies": " ‘Like Scooby Doo?' I said. ‘Like dogs?' " Yes, like dogs, and by Ward's account, it's a wonder that anyone should have escaped the swamp to make their way in that larger, more spacious world beyond it. A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved and other stories of struggle and redemption--beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 April #1

In her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones (one of my favorite novels ever), Ward writes so sharply and affectingly of African American life in the rural South that everyone should be anticipating this memoir-cum-social observation. Over five years, Ward saw the death (by drugs, suicide, accident, and more) of her brother and four other young men to whom she was close, and she came to realize what seemed so obvious in hindsight: they all died as a consequence of the limited economic opportunity and fractured family life that is the legacy of long-standing racism. As she reflects on her losses, telling the stories of her community, she gives us an intimate understanding of deep-rooted social issues.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 September #1

National Book Award-winning novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones) recently mourned the death of five young men in four years. Accidents, drugs, or suicide claimed her brother, a cousin, and three friends. Her moving memoir details her relationships with the dead men and associates their deaths with the dismal existence experienced by many Southern black men. She explores how a history of racism, economic inequality, and lapsed personal responsibility continues to fester within portions of this population. As Ward details her loss and her family's life in Louisiana and Mississippi, she tries to understand why her brother died and digs deep within her heart and mind to discover why this is her story to tell. Through Ward's narrative, readers come to know her own struggles as the only black female in a private high school and as a budding writer finding her place in the world. VERDICT Ward's candid account is full of sadness and hope that takes readers out of their comfort zone and proves that education and hard work are the way up for the young and downtrodden. [See Prepub Alert, 3/11/13.]--Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 June #4

In this riveting memoir of the ghosts that haunt her hometown in Mississippi, two-time novelist and National Book Award-winner Ward (Salvage the Bones) writes intimately about the pall of blighted opportunity, lack of education, and circular poverty that hangs over the young, vulnerable African-American inhabitants of DeLisle, Miss., who are reminiscent of the characters in Ward's fictionalized Bois Sauvage. The five young black men featured here are the author's dear friends and her younger brother, whose deaths between 2000 and 2004 were "seemingly unrelated," but all linked to drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and a general "lack of trust" in the ability of society--and, ultimately, family and friends--to nurture them. The first to die (though his story is told last in the book) was her brother, Joshua, a handsome man who didn't do as well in school as Ward and was stuck back home, doing odd jobs while his sister attended Stanford and later moved to N.Y.C. Joshua died senselessly after being struck by a drunk driver on a dark coastal road one night. The "wolf" that tracked all of these young men--and the author, too, when she experienced the isolation of being black at predominantly white schools--was the sense of how little their lives mattered. Ward beautifully incorporates the pain and guilt woven her and her brother's lives by the absence and failure of their father, forcing their mother to work as a housekeeper to keep the family afloat. Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue. (Sept.)

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