Jacqueline Woodson does it again with Red at the Bone. In my opinion, there’s no other living author that imbues so much emotion and grace into so few pages. This story is all about family and self-realization at any age. It’s a story of Melody, a teen whose parents Aubrey and Iris were teens when she was born. And whose grandparents Po’Boy and Sabe raised her. And CathyMarie who raised Aubrey.
We learn about life for this African American family in mostly current day Brooklyn. Woodson spends the most time with Melody and Iris but also gives grandma Sabe her time. Melody and her conception change everything for this family. Everyone feels the new life in a different way. And as Melody grows up, she learns about them too. The family’s men primarily react to the women in their lives. Still, they’re important and vital to the heartbeat of this story.
Woodson also connects us to the history of the massacre in Tulsa and how this family is different because of it. She shows us the effects of love, sex, parenthood, and gentrification. And what it takes to be a survivor.
Woodson winds the stories and voices together like bells in a gentle breeze. First, we hear one tone, then the wind blows, and we hear another. And soon enough, all of the tones play a melody that tells the tale. I loved every voice, every character, even when they weren’t lovable.
Red at the Bone covers decades, but just touches down lightly on the most important moments and feelings. Woodson doesn’t bog down in anything. Instead, she skates along until events warrant a song from the bells. As a result, it feels like we know this family. And yet I wish there was more and more and more. And, while you may disagree, I would much rather wish a book had more than find that it somehow told too much.
My book group chose this book, and I’m anxious for our conversation because I suspect this won’t suit everyone. Still, if you’re searching for a unique and melodic voice, read Jacqueline Woodson.