I’ve heard girls at my school talk. These are conversations I snatch from the air like we take down clothes that crusted dry on a clothesline. The girls say that if you’re pregnant and you take a month’s worth of birth control pills, it will make your period come on. Say if you drink bleach, you get sick, and it make what will become the baby come out. Say if you hit yourself really hard in the stomach, throw yourself on the metal edge of a car and it hits you low enough to call bruises, it could bring a miscarriage. Say that this is what you do when you can’t afford an abortion, when you can’t have a baby, when nobody wants what is in you.  (102)

Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones

Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones Jesmyn Ward
Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. Bloomsbury. (this one has a reader’s guide)

It is twelve days before the disaster of Hurricane Katrina breaks the levees and floods the Gulf Coast in the deadliest hurricane since Camille.

Salvage the Bones is Esch Batiste’s fictional account of her life in those twelve days. She is the only girl in a family of three brothers and her father; her mother died in childbirth seven years prior. And at fifteen, Esch is pregnant by her first love, Manny, who does not love her back. Alternating between her experiences as an emerging woman and those of her brother’s prized fighting dog, China, Esch makes observations about girlhood, womanhood, and life in general as her family prepares for hurricane season. Throughout those twelve days the family deals with love, loss, and everything in between.  They have no idea the extent of the damage heading their way.

Why This Text is Transformative?

...one of those texts that force the reader to see the world on the other side of their comfort zone.

Salvage the Bones is one of those texts that force the reader to see the world on the other side of their comfort zone. Esch is unflinching in her observations, forcing the reader to go along with whatever she shows them, and daring the reader to pass judgment. It is impossible to come away from this story not understanding that the world is a complex environment.

A Focused Selection

Study Questions

Day 1 | Chapters 1, 2, and 4


We are introduced to the entire Batiste clan and their extended family. There is Randall, Skeetah, Esch, Junior, and their father. Then there is Manny, Randall’s best friend and Esch’s love interest. Big Henry, Skeetah’s friend, and China, Skeetah’s prized fighting dog. We learn that Esch is fifteen and pregnant, that the Batiste children lost their mother 7 years ago, and that Esch is sexually promiscuous. China has just given birth to her first litter, 5 puppies. Hurricane Katrina is still forming in the Gulf.

1) Esch provides a detailed description of their rural surroundings. She does it without judgment. Think about where you’re from. Do you think you can provide a similar description without societal context?

2) This story is as much about motherhood as it is about the impact of the hurricane. Esch is pregnant and China has just had a litter of five puppies. What do you think it means to be a “mother”? Where do you think you get your ideas about motherhood?

3) Esch and the rest of the community walk a thin moral line in the name of survival. Is it ever right to do the wrong thing? Have you ever done the wrong thing for the right reasons? How did you determine the risk was worth the reward? 

Day 2 | Chapters 7, 10, 11, and 12

Esch and Manny have a moment in the bathroom of the high school. Skeetah confronts Rico and Manny about China. Esch confronts Manny about the baby. Katrina makes landfall. China runs away to find her babies. The community takes stock of their experience and the fallout.

1) On page 255 Big Henry tells Esch, “this baby got a daddy, Esch…This baby got plenty daddies.” What does it mean to be a daddy? Where do you think you get ideas about fatherhood?

2) As the Batiste’s navigate the hurricane, what parts of Esch’s account seem familiar to you? What parts surprise you, if your only other account is from the outside the Gulf Coast.

3) How important is your community to you?

4) Have you ever loved (or liked) someone who didn’t love (or like) you back? It doesn’t have to be romantic love, any kind of unrequited love is up for discussion. What did you do? 

Building Bridges

A Recommended Pairing

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman pairs well with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. How does Wollstonecraft’s text provide us with a lens to understand Edna and Leonce’s marriage? How does Wollstonecraft’s discussion of virtue, reason, and education help to explain Edna’s sense of dissatisfaction with her life as well as the failures she meets with in her relationships? Do any of Wollstonecraft’s warnings about an uneducated mother resonate in Chopin’s depiction of Edna?

Supplemental Resources

Mary wollstonecraft statue

A Sculpture to Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London. It was sculpted by British artist Maggi Hambling. It was unveiled on November 10, 2020.By Grim23 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

What did Mary Wollstonecraft write about in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?

Dangerous Minds Episode 4 - Mary Wollstonecraft

Text Mapping

Discipline Mapping

English/Composition Studies


Area Studies

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