Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Leonie is Jojo and Kayla’s mother. She is a troubled character, whose difficulties stem from a mix of trauma, structural oppression, and her own flaws. Jojo views Leonie as a neglectful, selfish, and incomprehensible mother. Their relationship is painful, and both characters can be cruel to one another. Leonie’s mistreatment of her children is closely related to her drug use, which began as a result of Michael’s influence and continues after he goes to prison. Indeed, Leonie’s relationship with Michael is a source of both immense joy and suffering. Leonie is madly in love with Michael, so much so that she neglects her children and other responsibilities. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that there are other reasons why Leonie fails as a mother. She is deeply traumatized by the murder of her brother, Given, who appears to her in spirit form when she gets high. Furthermore, Leonie has been profoundly impacted by the extreme racism of the society in which she lives. Although Leonie is not redeemed at the end of the novel, it is clear that her failings are not entirely her fault.

Leonie Quotes in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The Sing, Unburied, Sing quotes below are all either spoken by Leonie or refer to Leonie. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Sing, Unburied, Sing published in 2017.
Chapter 4: Leonie Quotes

How you think I paid for all my trips up to Bishop? From tips? She shook her head and snorted. You better take advantage.
I hear them four words over and over again when we get in the car and I watch Misty put the package in the pocket under the floorboards. You better take advantage. She said them words as though decisions have no consequences, when, of course, it's been easier for her. The way she said it, take advantage, made me want to slap her. Her freckles, her thin pink lips, her blond hair, the stubborn milkiness of her skin; how easy had it been for her, her whole life, to make the world a friend to her?

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Misty, Bishop
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5: Jojo Quotes

She ain't Mam. She ain't Pop. She ain't never healed nothing or grown nothing in her life, and she don't know.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Pop (River), Mam, Leonie
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

I lay there until I can't no more, and then I carry Kayla into the bathroom and stick my finger down her throat and make her throw up. She fights me, hitting at my arms, crying against my hand, sobbing but not making no words, but I do it three times, make her vomit over my hand, hot as her little body, three times, all of it red and smelling sweet, until I'm crying and she's shrieking. I turn off the light and go back into the room and wipe her with my shirt and lay in the bed with her, scared that Leonie's going to walk in and find all that red throw-up in the bathroom, find out I made Kayla throw up Leonie's potion. But nobody comes.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Kayla (Michaela), Leonie
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7: Leonie Quotes

It feels good to be mean, to speak past the baby I can't hit and let that anger touch another. The one I'm never good enough for. Never Mama for. Just Leonie, a name wrapped around the same disappointed syllables I've heard from Mama, from Pop, even from Given, my whole fucking life.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Jojo , Pop (River), Mam, Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a miracle, I think, so I close my eyes and ignore Given-not-Given, who is sitting there with a sad look on his face, mouth in a soft frown, and think of Michael, real Michael, and wonder if we had another baby, if it would look more like him than Michaela. If we had another baby, we could get it right.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Kayla (Michaela), Michael, Given
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10: Leonie Quotes

We are all sinking, and there are manta rays gliding beneath us and sharks jostling us. I am trying to keep everyone above water, even as I struggle to stay afloat. I sink below the waves and push Jojo upward so he can stay above the waves and breathe, but then Michaela sinks and I push her up, and Michael sinks so I shove him to the air as I sink and struggle, but they won't stay up: they want to sink like stones. I thrust them up toward the surface, to the fractured sky so they can live, but they keep slipping from my hands. It is so real that I can feel their sodden clothes against my palms. I am failing them. We are all drowning.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela), Michael
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sing, Unburied, Sing LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sing, Unburied, Sing PDF

Leonie Character Timeline in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The timeline below shows where the character Leonie appears in Sing, Unburied, Sing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
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...is still asleep. Jojo then recalls happier times in his childhood, when he still called Leonie “Mama” and Michael “Pop,” before Leonie started using drugs. Jojo explains that Michael was imprisoned... (full context)
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...a time after Mam was first diagnosed with cancer, when Pop left him alone with Leonie, who then drove away herself. Jojo heard Pop’s brother, Stag, walking past and singing. According... (full context)
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Jojo confesses that he does not understand his mother, and notes that Leonie hates the fact that the rest of the family call Kayla “Kayla,” rather than Michaela,... (full context)
Chapter 2: Leonie
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After Leonie (who narrates this chapter) gets off the phone with Michael, she goes to work an... (full context)
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The next day Leonie and Pop argue about Leonie bringing the kids to pick Michael up from Parchman. When... (full context)
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Leonie throws Jojo’s day-old birthday cake in the trash. Pop says Leonie has to tell Mam... (full context)
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In his senior year of high school, Leonie’s brother Given was a dedicated football player who was friends with both his white and... (full context)
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...“gift” can see dead people, but that Mam can only dream of seeing Given again. Leonie saw him for the first time three years ago, after doing a line of cocaine.... (full context)
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Leonie drives up to leave a note at Michael’s parents’ house to say she is going... (full context)
Chapter 3: Jojo
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The next morning Leonie wakes Jojo and Kayla early and hurries them out the door. Misty is already waiting... (full context)
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Back in the car, Misty tells Leonie that she has to stop to see some friends for a minute before getting back... (full context)
Chapter 4: Leonie
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Leonie reveals that Misty encouraged her to transport drugs on their trip to Parchman. Misty pointed... (full context)
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Leonie looks at Jojo in the backseat and thinks that he looks like Given, but more... (full context)
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They stop at another gas station and Leonie tries to buy nausea medicine for children, but the store doesn’t stock any. When Leonie... (full context)
Chapter 5: Jojo
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...to eat something and that she is suffering from intense stomach pain. He doesn’t want Leonie to feed her the blackberry leaves. When Jojo was younger, Leonie bought him a betta... (full context)
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...picks it up. Jojo learns that Al is Michael’s lawyer, and seemingly Bishop’s as well. Leonie cooks the blackberry plant and mixes it with food coloring and sugar. She tries to... (full context)
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...their journey. Before long, they are at Parchman and suddenly reunited with Michael, who embraces Leonie before anyone else. In the parking lot, Michael and Leonie kiss passionately while Kayla points... (full context)
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...greets the kids, introducing himself to Kayla, and Jojo feels tense. Back in the car, Leonie takes out sandwiches that she must have made at Al’s, and Jojo eats his so... (full context)
Chapter 7: Leonie
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Jojo won’t let go of Kayla; both children sit in the car covered in vomit. Leonie can tell that something has happened to Jojo, though she doesn’t know what. They return... (full context)
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Michael and Leonie have sex, which Leonie describes as a transcendent, sacred experience. After they are finished, Leonie... (full context)
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Leonie got pregnant with Jojo when she was seventeen, a year after she and Michael got... (full context)
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Leonie falls asleep in the car and wakes up to Michael shaking her, telling her that... (full context)
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...of Jojo to protect him. The officer searches the vehicle, and as he does so Leonie gets suddenly and violently high. Given appears, and Kayla vomits again. The officer finds nothing... (full context)
Chapter 8: Jojo
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After two hours of driving, the group stops at a gas station. Leonie is still bent over, and Michael gives Jojo money to buy milk and charcoal for... (full context)
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Richie asks if Leonie is Jojo’s mother, and Jojo replies “No.” Richie says that he knows he (Richie) tried... (full context)
Chapter 10: Leonie
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Leonie wakes up in immense pain, yet with a feeling of relief because she is with... (full context)
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...Mam and Pop gone, and Michael decides to drive them over to visit his parents. Leonie feels anxious and protests, but Michael insists that it’s important they go. Leonie knows that... (full context)
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Reluctantly, Leonie gives Kayla back to Jojo, unable to look at either of them. They drive to... (full context)
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Michael head-butts Big Joseph and they begin to wrestle one another. Leonie feels panicked but also strangely amused, thinking that whole thing is “ridiculous” and “stupid.” Maggie... (full context)
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...home to find Pop sitting on the porch. As they get out of the car, Leonie notices that Michael is a little hesitant. Pop tells Leonie that she should go and... (full context)
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Mam asks Leonie to gather rocks from the cemetery, cotton, cornmeal, and rum. Leonie cries and asks if... (full context)
Chapter 11: Jojo
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...water to Mam and tells her that Michael hit Kayla. Mam sighs and says that Leonie “ain’t got the mothering instinct.” Jojo says that Leonie hates him, but Mam replies that... (full context)
Chapter 12: Richie
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Richie sees Leonie tell Michael that she has something to do, and for a second he sees Given,... (full context)
Chapter 14: Leonie
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After bringing Mam the rocks from the cemetery, Leonie goes to find Given. She sees him and he shakes his head at her. Leonie... (full context)
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Kayla is crying, and keeps repeating “the black bird, the black boy.” Leonie thinks she must still be half-dreaming, and tells her to go back to sleep. Kayla... (full context)
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Jojo and Pop run in, and Leonie says the litany, asking Maman Brigitte to accept their offerings. Jojo tells someone that he... (full context)
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Later, Michael finds Leonie on the porch. She tells him that Mam is dead and that she wants to... (full context)
Chapter 15: Jojo
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Time has passed, and Leonie and Michael only come home to stay for a couple of days in each week.... (full context)