Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson


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From the Publisher: An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.

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.

There are few writers who can tell the real, deep story of a family as beautifully as Jacqueline Woodson. Here, she takes a seemingly simple story of 16 year old Melody and her “coming of age” ceremony and uses it to reveal the passion, desire, betrayal, trauma, and love that led to the moment she descends the stairs of her grandparents home to the instrumental music of Prince.

Woodson exposes family history with a scalpel – lifting up a flap of skin to reveal the bloody but strong sinew underneath which tethers a family together. She does not shy away from hard things like racism, violence, sex, and lost opportunities but uses those common experiences across generations to demonstrate how damn hard it is to keep your children from repeating your own stories.

Give this book to every teen you know.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy