RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson

From the Jacket

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.

My Thoughts

Jacqueline Woodson’s RED AT THE BONE is such a treat of a book: small, special, and oh-so-good! RED AT THE BONE utilizes some of my favorite storytelling techniques: it’s told from multiple perspectives, and it follows a group of characters over a long period of time. Each chapter, constructed as a family member’s internal monologue, circles around teenage Melody’s coming-of-age ceremony, while simultaneously telling the story of her parents and grandparents decades prior. Somehow, in less than 200 pages, Woodson is able to tell the story of generations of a family, their backgrounds, motivations, ambitions, failures, and successes.

“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.”

And then we have the prose!! RED AT THE BONE is exquisitely written, which comes as no surprise given Woodson’s background in verse. The prose certainly compliments the story itself, and the two work hand-in-hand to deliver a powerful message on identity, family, sexuality, history. This is writing that invites you in, writing that you want to savor, but at the same time, it would be hard not to finish this novel in one sitting, both for its length and for its urgency.

Poignant, raw, and emotional, RED AT THE BONE is truly a tremendous feat. Just like the book, I’ll keep my thoughts short and sweet: read this one! A true delight from start to finish.

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