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Red at the Bone


Red at the Bone

From the great Jacqueline Woodson comes a new novel that is sparse and searing, poignant and incisive, lush, lyrical and bright as a knife.

RED AT THE BONE begins in 2001, with 16-year-old Melody descending a staircase in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone, making her debut in the dress her mother never got to wear for her own 16th celebration. From here, Woodson gently shifts the reader backwards and forwards in time with her careful, lovely prose.

Back, to how Iris and Aubrey came to create Melody when they were 15, unplanned and unprepared. Forth, to Iris choosing to go to college in Oberlin, putting many miles between her child and her lover before her body has even finished lactating. Back, to how Aubrey's mother fell in love with a man who would be dead before he could know his son. To how Iris' parents, Sabe and Po'Boy, survived racist hate and violence and found in each other a vibrant, enduring love. Forth, to the girl with whom Iris would come to find something close to love, on a college campus. Forth, through ache and tragedy, and choice after choice that leads Melody to those stairs and beyond.

"Jacqueline Woodson is an expert at craft, character, voice and story, and RED AT THE BONE is a brutal, brilliant masterpiece."

Woodson weaves magic through these pages, shifting through not only time but voice to tightly tell a family's story that spans generations. She hearkens to the circumstances that shaped Sabe and Po'Boy and alludes to the possibilities within Iris’ and Melody's futures. This sharp, slim novel interrogates the expectations for parenthood. It delves into motherhood, Sabe's and then Iris', the choices that Iris makes for herself and her family as she is learning how to become her own person. And fatherhood, too, and how Aubrey and Melody grow together in Iris' absence. Woodson writes specific, centering on this small, tight-knit Black family in Brooklyn. Her aching, clever prose, though, radiates out, the wisdom within it rippling off the pages. She tackles race, class, colorism, feminism and queer identity earnestly and authentically, never heavy-handed, as they manifest in the lives of these beautifully realized characters.

There is love here, and longing. There is a young woman who refuses to let anyone else define her, who is hungry for the world and what it might bring her, who never meant to give up all the possibilities life can have. There is a young man who loves his mother, his daughter and the mother of his child so much that he will let his life be shaped by how he can care for them best. There is queer desire here, emerging honest and raw. There is a lineage of tragedy, and a lineage of love, and through it all, through passion and pain, we endure.

Jacqueline Woodson is an expert at craft, character, voice and story, and RED AT THE BONE is a brutal, brilliant masterpiece.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on September 20, 2019

Red at the Bone
by Jacqueline Woodson

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525535284
  • ISBN-13: 9780525535287