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.
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.
(From the Book Blurb)
Lyrical, poignant, and powerful, Red at the bone by Jacqueline Woodson will mesmerize you with its spellbinding tale of how people from different social class and backgrounds come together, love, create a new life, stay or go their different ways and continue living.
The book begins with a special kind of celebration- it is 2001 and it is Melody’s sixteenth birthday and her coming of age party. She is wearing a custom-made vintage dress, a corset and silk stockings. The dress was sewn and paid for by her grandparents for Iris, Melody’s mother, who never got her chance to wear it, because by the time she would have, she was already pregnant with Melody. As Melody is dancing in abandon with her friends, she is watched by her family.
Her mother Iris is wondering how things got so wrong between them. She is remembering how her own mother reacted to the news of the pregnancy, crying and cursing her daughter’s foolishness that destroyed the bright future her parents had been hoping for.
Aubrey, Melody’s father, was just a teenager himself. He remembers falling in love with Iris and discovering ‘what love felt like- a constant ache, an endless need‘. He remembers his own mother who was so light-skinned, she could be mistaken for a white woman. People even asked her if Aubrey was her foster child. They were very poor, but it took years for Aubrey to realize that or feel any kind of shame related to their poverty. Above all, Aubrey remembers his mother’s words: ‘I believe in you, Aubrey. My love. My life. My light.‘
Melody’s grandparents have their own story. Her grandmother Sabe has been passing the story of the Tulsa riot/ massacre and the fire that burned her grandparents’ businesses and left a scar on her mother’s cheek. She grew up with a special kind of philosophy geared towards survival.
As we follow the protagonists’ stories, we learn more and more about Melody’s family, the love they all give her, their sincerity, and their own search for identity. Starting from Aubrey’s mother explanation for their very different looks – ‘The black ancestors beat the crap out of the white ones and said Let this baby on through- through Aubrey’s terminally ill mother helping pregnant Iris re-kindle her ambition and passion for learning in order to finish her high school and go on to get a college degree – to Sabe’s inner voice ‘Rise. Rise. Rise’, refusing to let neighbourhood gossips dictate how she and her family should live.
Jacqueline Woodson’s writing is exquisitely beautiful and I can see myself reding and re-reading this book again and again. Each character has a unique voice and a unique story to tell. Red at the Bone is a little gem of a book that you will keep thinking about long after you have turned the last page.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Riverhead Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read Red at the Bone or is it on your tbr?
- Have you read other books by Jacqueline Woodson?