In a beautifully woven tale of tenacity and resilience, the constant, unwavering bond of familial relationships pulls 15-year old Esch through the currents of life. From the start of the novel, expressive detail narrates Esch's description of China, her brother's prized pit bull, her Mama, and her family members. Titled "The First Day: Birth in a Bare-Bulb Place," the first chapter begins with China's birthing of puppies and reveals a delicate glimpse into the relationships which unfold in the depth of the following chapters. The structure of this novel is broken into 12 chapters, which signify 12 days, and it establishes a steady tempo, leading up to the cataclysmic final events.
Ward uses vivid imagery to paint a picture and awaken the senses of the reader. Details of the hot climate of Mississippi and the slow movement of summer lull the reader in a hazy trance, interrupted by the voices of Junior, Randall, Skeetah, Esch's father, and their family friends. An example of this is when Skeetah and and Randall talk about their mother:
Skeetah looks up, but he is looking at Randall when he talks, not Manny.
"You remember how Mama used to kill the chickens?" Skeetah asks.
The cicadas in the trees are like fitful rain, sounding in waves in the black brush of the trees. When Randall speaks, he stares at Skeetah, who grips the side of the bucket.
"She only killed one when it was something special, like one of our birthdays or her and Daddy's anniversary. She used to watch them, like she knew every one..."
In the text preceding this exchange is constant dialogue, and the brief description of the cicadas and the sound of nature passes as quickly as it entered into the reader's thoughts, effectively peppering our perception of the situation with important detail and foreshadowing future events. Interspersed throughout the novel are swift inclusions of nature's warnings. At one point, the reader is privy to the ominous threat of Hurricane Katrina, which the novel's characters regard as a common storm, one whose arms of destruction would never leave too far from coastlines to endanger Mississippians. The inkling of a warning steadily grows throughout the novel into the looming threat of a powerful storm, gently blanketing the events of the story and paralleling the build-up of stirring confrontation between the characters.
Through the relationships between Esch, Skeetah, China, Manny, and between Esch's father and mother, the reader develops a nuanced awareness of the dynamics and history between the characters. As the novel's title implies, there is a prevalent theme of tenacity, resilience, and the fight to "salvage the bones," for what the Batiste family can hold onto best: each other. Between the Batiste siblings exists a deep, unshakable bond, developed in sorrow and strength particularly after the passing of their mother. Much of the narrative speaks in bewitching metaphors, like Esch's description of a newly formed scar on China's body. She says, "Skeetah unwraps China's breast, and it hangs free, already bruised and wilted from disuse; it is a dark mark on her, marring what was once so white, so pristine. The scar makes what remains even more beautiful."Salvage the Bones exudes devotion, perseverance, and the relentless will to live, redefining beauty through unyielding spirit of Esch.