Review: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Fiction
Length: 207 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.
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.


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson is a poignant family-centric novel.

Beginning with 16 year old Melody’s coming of age celebration, the story then unfolds in a series of vignettes from various character’s perspectives. Melody’s party sparks memories of her mother Iris whose unplanned teenage pregnancy upended their lives.  Melody is close to her father, Aubrey and  her maternal grandparents, Sabe and Sammy “Po’Boy” Simmons. But her relationship with Iris is distant since her mother has not been a part of her life for many, many years.

Although the various stories are compelling, the story feels a bit disjointed.  The shifts in character perspective are not clearly marked so it is sometimes a little confusing trying to figure who is currently narrating.  The novel touches on a series of significant and life-altering changes but some events are covered more in depth than others.

Red at the Bone is an interesting novel with a unique storyline.  The characters are richly drawn and most of them are likable. Iris is a notable exception since she is somewhat self-absorbed and essentially abandons Melody.  Jacqueline Woodson beautifully incorporates true to life events such as 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa and 9/11 into the storyline.  An overall enjoyable yet short read.

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