Category Archives: Jacqueline Woodson

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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Filed under Fiction, Jacqueline Woodson, Rated C, Red at the Bone, Review, Riverhead Books

Review: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Contemporary, Children’s Fiction, Grade Level 5-6
Length: 192 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program


Jacqueline Woodson’s first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories.

It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat–by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them–everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.


Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is poignant yet heartwarming novel with a cast of diverse characters that are exceptionally well-developed and appealing.  Although the target audience is middle-schoolers, I highly recommend this quick but powerful read to readers of all ages.

Narrated by twelve year old Haley McGrath, she and her five classmates gather together once a week to talk freely to one another without adult supervision. Their conversations are surprisingly deep as they delve into the realities they each face due to their life experiences. Haley is bi-racial and currently being raised by her white uncle and she is apprehensive about the upcoming changes in her life. Her best friend Holly finds it impossible to sit still and she often blurts out her uncensored thoughts.  Tiago is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants and he is troubled by the hateful rhetoric he and his mother encounter while conversing in Spanish in public. Amari recounts a recent discussion with his father which highlights the dangers African American’s face even during innocent play. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group which leads his fellow classmates to mistakenly believe this affords him protection from any type of hardship or adversity. Young Esteban is a going through a heartrending experience that no one should ever have to endure.

With frank honesty and surprising insight, Harbor Me touches on relevant social issues through the eyes of these six pre-teens.  Through these weekly discussions, Jacqueline Woodson highlights the fact that political and racial issues affect children just as much they do adults. Their stories are captivating and their compassionate and perceptive reactions to one anothers’ plights offer hope for the future of our country. I highly recommend this timely novel which features an engrossing and thought-provoking storyline.

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Filed under Children's Fiction, Contemporary, Grade Level 5-6, Harbor Me, Jacqueline Woodson, Nancy Paulsen Books, Rated B+, Review