THE PLOT: Men We Reaped is a memoir by award-winning author Jesmyn Ward. It gives life to the stories of five young black men, including her beloved brother, who died in the space of four years. Interwoven with her life story, Jesmyn reflects on why so many of her friends and family members lost their lives. She questions whether the fates of these young men were predetermined by poverty and racism, and ultimately interrogates what it means to be young, black and poor in Mississippi.
RATING: How can you review someone’s trauma? This work is almost above review because it’s raw and real. It’s rooted in Jesmyn’s heartache and you can sense her heartbreak in each page. It’s a fascinating story of her ‘rags to riches’ rise from a poor family in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, to becoming one of the foremost contemporary authors and winning a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant. It is certainly a five-star book, which you should read as soon as possible.
GOOD BITS: I loved the structure of the book as each chapter alternated between Jesmyn’s life story (starting with her birth) and the story of one of the young men who died (going backwards from the most recent tragedy). The two narratives meet in the middle with the death of her brother, which the penultimate chapter is devoted to. This draws out the reality of her upbringing as well as maintaining focus on the tragedies that led to each man’s death.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Not applicable.
OVERALL: If you’ve been following the Black Lives Matter protests across America, then this book is an essential read. It’s a deeply personal take on the injustices faced by young, black men in the Southern United States of America. Through the stories of these deaths, we see that despite being seemingly unconnected – with causes ranging from suicide to drug addiction to murder – each tragedy is steeped in the legacy of racial injustice.