Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.
As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.
Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.
“Guess that’s where the tears came from, knowing that there’s so much in this great big world that you don’t have a single ounce of control over. Guess the sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll have one less heartbreak in your life.”
Red At The Bone was longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction and it is really a gem.
This is again, another character-driven story. It started off with Melody’s coming of age ceremony and from thereon, we move back and forth in time to follow the stories of different characters mainly, Melody’s parents (Aubrey and Iris) and grandparents (Po’boy and Sabe). The author uses a lot of short sentences in this book but she still managed to carve out the emotions and conflicts of the characters very well.
Through these characters, the author discusses a lot of issues that stem from teenage pregnancy and its repercussions. Apparently, Iris is pregnant at the age of 15, and from there onwards, she is slapped with the conflict between motherhood/parenthood and the pursuit of her own ambition. Since she chose the latter, such choice resulted in her relationship with her husband and daughter to be distant. We can see the state of the relationship between Melody and Iris from the start of the book as Melody always calls her mother on a first name basis. Of course, the themes of racism, racial inequality, sexual identity, and education are also heavily featured in this book.
This book definitely stands out due to the combination of the author’s lyrical writing style and characterization. Red At The Bone deserves a 10/10 star rating from me. If you are looking for a fast-paced plot with twists, this may not be the book for you. But if you are prepared to immerse yourself into the character work of Jaqueline Woodson, Red At The Bone will definitely leave you satisfied.