The narrative of the Batiste family in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, in the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, is told in Salvage the Bones. Randall, Skeetah (Jason), Esch, and Junior’s mother, Claude Batiste’s wife, died a few years ago, just after Junior was born.
The children continue to live with their father in the Pit. They are an impoverished black family that relies on Claude’s ability to salvage and sell scrap metal to make ends meet. He’s an alcoholic who doesn’t appear much in the plot; the kids are left to fend for themselves, with Randall functioning as Junior’s parent.
Skeetah’s pit bull, China, is about to give birth to puppies when the narrative begins. Skeet’s sole companion in China and she’s his ticket to financial independence; he could sell China’s puppies for over $800 if he wanted to. He fights with China, and her puppies will be good fighters as well.
We learn that Esch had sexual involvement with Randall’s buddy Manny and that she is pregnant with his kid later in the novel.
The first ten chapters follow the events leading up to the hurricane and show the family preparing for the storm according to their father’s wishes. Claude, on the other hand, is the only one who is concerned about the approaching storm.
They can’t keep a lot of food, the materials they use to hold water are reused bottles, and the wood they use to board up the house’s windows is deformed and leaves holes. These boards were largely gathered from the house on their land where their grandparents used to dwell.
China had four puppies and one that died shortly after birth. Sketch needs to break into a white person’s house and grab medicine to protect them from parvovirus. China has some troubles with the puppies, and she even tries to abandon them at one point, but Skeet takes good care of them. His entire attention is focused on China, and he is unconcerned about the approaching cyclone.
Esch tries to keep her pregnancy a secret from her family, but when she meets Manny in a restroom, he can tell she’s expecting because of her big tummy. Skeetah realizes Manny is the reason Esch is upset when she meets her brothers again.
They have a disagreement, and Manny’s cousin, Rico, insists on settling the score with a dog fight. He’s trying to figure out if he’ll get one of China’s puppies, as his dog father the litter she just had.
Another guy, Marquise, volunteers to fight instead of China with his cousin’s dog, Boss. They have a dogfight, and Boss gets gravely injured. China must then finish the fight, and despite her gravely injured breast, she triumphs. However, the win is fleeting as the hurricane approaches.
Skeet and Claude have a disagreement about having China and the puppies in the house, but Skeet wins. When the storm hits, everything appears to be alright until the water seeps in beneath the floors. They’ve been forced to move into the attic since the water level has gotten so high.
The water then rises much higher, forcing them to flee the house through a hole they dug themselves. Skeet notices that the roof of their grandparents’ house is still above water while sitting on the roof of the house with the puppies in a bucket and China wrapped around his torso.
The family jumps to a nearby tree, where they can jump to the grandparents’ roof from the top branches, and then climb into their attic for safety. Esch loses the puppies in the process, while China wriggles her way free of Skeetah and disappears. Everyone discovers that Esch is pregnant at this perilous time, while Skeet rushes to get her into the house first.
The Batiste family observes the devastation to Bois Sauvages as the water recedes. Skeet is refusing to leave the yard in order to await China’s return. Big Henry’s mansion is discovered by Esch, Randall, Junior, and Claude. He brings them in, cleans them up, and feeds them.
The book concludes with a summary of the flood’s aftermath. Skeet hopes that China will return to him, and the novel finishes with the hope that the Batiste family will survive and continue as they always have with the support of people like Big Henry.
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