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Red at the Bone

Red at the Bone

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.

Author: Jacqueline Woodson | Publisher: Riverhead

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Rating: 5 / 5

Thank you to for the advanced listening copy of this book! If you like audiobooks, try — it works and costs the same as Audible, but supports local bookstores. (Not sponsored, but if you use my referral link you get one month free and I get a free book. 😊)

Wow. This book. What did we ever do to you, Jacqueline Woodson?? How can you be allowed to just swoop in there, break our hearts ten times in ten different ways, and then just leave?? So beautiful.

Red at the Bone centers on one family, although it’s tough to say who the main character is. Perhaps it’s Iris, who shocked her family by having a baby at the age of sixteen. But the story opens on that child’s 16th birthday, and she and every one of her family members — her mother, her father, her grandfather, her grandmother — gets a first-person perspective, plus some third-person along the way. Woodson dives in and out of these characters’ heads and hearts, pulling at their lives and experiences in a way that gives you the most complete family portrait of all time.

The story isn’t told linearly; we bounce around from past to present and then jump ahead, we get layers on layers. And while it isn’t long (only 208 pages and an audiobook run time of about four hours), this story will stay with you for a long time. It’s absolutely astounding how much of an impact Jacqueline Woodson can have on your heart in so few pages, and how full and beautiful she can make so many characters. She’s the best for a reason.

The voice cast of the audiobook was also phenomenal. I usually like to listen to nonfiction and read fiction, because I like to spend more time savoring the words in fiction. But I’m so glad I listened to this one. It was emotional and very well done.



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