"An extraordinary new novel about the influence of history on a contemporary family, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming. Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson's extraordinary 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 this 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 soundtrack 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"--
Iris grows up in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, nurtured by her solidly middle class parents. Her mother holds her own mother's memories of the Tulsa Massacre, when an entire community was destroyed and her father has worked hard to raise his family into the middle class. She's about to have her coming out party, when she becomes pregnant and that event never occurs. Within a few months, she goes from a girl with everything to look forward to, to the girl parents warn their children about. But her story doesn't end there, and while her path forward isn't easy, or without harm done, she perseveres.
Woodson's writing is beautiful. There isn't a single unnecessary word in this novel. She has a talent for bringing her characters to life in very few words and of making their experiences vivid to the reader.
“If this moment was a sentence, I’d be the period.”
This begins, as a coming of age story, with sixteen year old Melody, celebrating with her family in Brooklyn. Then the narrative shifts to different members of Melody's family, examining their own lives and decisions, good and bad, that helped develop them, into the people they became. The author explores a myriad amount of issues, like class, status, race, sex, parenthood and identity, perfectly folded into a tidy two hundred pages.
This is my third outing, by Woodson, and each one is a marvel of delicate prose, directing a loving spotlight on the African-American experience.
In the course of this short novel, the family suffers many tragedies and some triumphs. Woodson addresses a number of significant questions and themes, including teenage pregnancy, racism, the meanings of motherhood and family in contemporary society, the role of education,gender and gender roles, personal freedom v. responsibility, and more. I admire Woodson's style but think the book might have benefited from fleshing out the characters a bit more. iris is the most fully developed, but I empathized most with Aubrey and would have liked more background on the lives of Sabe and Po'Boy.
I loved it because it felt authentic, real.
"Something about memory. It takes you back to where you were, and just lets you be there for a while."
A much better read for my reading buddies, Angela, Lise and myself.
ARC from Netgalley and Riverhead books.
I am a great fan of Woodson's writing. Her stories are powerful, and manage to be intimate while touching on universal themes. Culture, community, love, loss, and of course the fact we don't know what we got til its gone (thanks Joni Mitchell.) Woodson's characters are so fully developed, though this book, like her others is extremely short. Woodson's facility with language is breathtaking. I find more and more that I am drawn to the prose of poets, who tend to write with great precision, economy and beauty. I just dropped.my next book onto my bag, and I already feel sorry for it -- Red at the Bone is a tough act to follow.
The most vivid retelling is Sabe’s lookback to the Tulsa massacre of 1921, when whites rioters resentful of the success of her family and other black entrepreneurs in Greenwood, the "Black Wall Street", use a flimsy Emmett-Till-like false premise to burn businesses and murder hundreds. And the most unique and remarkable facet of the fine writing we always expect from Woodson is her ability to give true and full voice to every character so that the story is rounded and complete, including a few unpredictable surprises.
Jacqueline Woodson has chosen a discontinuous mode of narration. Not only does she spring back and forward chronologically, but she also gives different characters a voice and also has a 3rd person narrator tell parts of the plot. This makes the whole story quite lively and often unexpected because at the beginning of each chapter you do not know where you are starting from and who is addressing you.
There are some central topics focussed on, first of all, of course, the teenager falling pregnant. The family manages the situation perfectly, no major fight or disruption arises from Iris’s decision to keep the baby, but it is hard to read about the reactions of her friends and school, even though I would classify it as highly authentic. The only person really struggling with the new-born, yet, is Iris who can never really bond with her daughter. She puts some effort in their relationship, but it is simply never enough and she most certainly suffers from the chances that she in her own perception never had in her life due to becoming a mother that early – admittedly, I had the impression that life could be much worse under these circumstances and Iris had a lot of opportunities to fulfil her dreams.
Another aspect are the class-related and skin-colour attributed options in life. These do not determine the characters’ fate, yet provide some food for thought as do family relations in general in the novel.
The novel offers a lot of blind spots, leaves gaps that you have to fill on your own due to the structure of the narration. I actually liked it because it makes you think on after reading and sticking with the book much longer. I also enjoyed Jacqueline Woodson’s style e of writing which is well adapted to the different characters and authentic.
Jacqueline Woodson writes with a poetic style that flows effortlessly across the page, delivering a story packed with emotion whether describing the love between two people, or the tragedy and loss the family faced over the years. Just beautiful.
The writing style was a bit confusing at times, with an absence of quotation marks (who decided they were a bad thing) and frequent unlabelled shifts in character perspectives. But the characters were rich in personality even if the story is a pretty plotless and low-key domestic drama.
And with lots of blank pages and loads of white space on many pages, it is at least a quick read, easily finished in a weekend.
I just finished my third book by Jacqueline Woodson entitled Red at the Bone,and I am here to highly recommend a fine novel. Woodson uses various narrators and various points of view (all within the same family )to tell the story of Iris and her daughter Melody. It begins with Melody, in 2001, her 16th birthday cotillion, wearing the dress that Iris should’ve worn if she hadn’t gotten pregnant with the same girl that’s currently descending the stairs of their Brooklyn home. Included in the narration are Iris' mother, Sabe, her father Po'boy, and her boyfriend, Aubrey. Iris was Aubrey's first sexual encounter, but for him early fatherhood was never the issue. Iris liked him though he was never the one she chose to be with forever: "she had never imagined Aubrey being the end of the line for her. An eternity with him had not been a part of her plan, whether or not she’d taken his cherry. As the acceptance letters started coming in, first Barnard, then Vassar, and finally Oberlin, she saw the chance to unrut herself. She saw the way out." Aubrey‘s character is perhaps the most noble, coming from a poor single parent family and eventually moving in with Iris' when his mother dies and taking care of Melody while her mother goes off to college. This is an unusual mother daughter relationship, but more important than the storyline is that the writing is wonderful; each character adding to the complexity of the situation. Woodson's novel was very reminiscent of Toni Morrison and you couldn’t ask for a more noble voice to take the place of one of our greatest writers.
Bro, how you doing? You holding on? Man, you know how it goes. One day chicken. Next day bone.
He had spent his childhood on a diet of Reagan’s cheese and Taystee Bread with the occasional roast beef boiled to chewing gum. His mother didn’t care much about cooking, and on a good evening—payday or when her income tax return came in—the two of them sat at the table, peeling back foil-covered TV dinners, talking softly through mouthfuls of Salisbury steak and scorched mashed potatoes.
Po’Boy puts his arm around my shoulder and I reach up for his hand. Feel the arthritis bending the bones in his fingers. Feel the thinness of his body that is cancer eating its way from inside to out and know I’ll be growing old without him. No green drinks or raw diet or holistic doctor over on Flatbush Avenue seems to be helping him. Po’Boy wasting away.
The baby’s eyes carried everything in them—they were almond shaped like her own, but for the few minutes they remained open, she could see that they were already a deep brown strangely flecked with green. The eyes were too beautiful. Too hungry. As they fluttered up toward Iris’s own while she nursed, it was hard not to look back into them.
He didn’t like the way they shaped her legs beneath her tights and lifted her feet off the ground just enough to promise something.
She felt red at the bone—like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding.