Jacqueline Woodson | 2019
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.
At first blush, I thought this would be a story about the coming of age of Melodie, a child of teenage pregnancy, born into a middle class black family. But, by the end, I’m not sure thats the case. Its really a story about everyone around Melodie as well. Maybe more about them than she.
Melodies parents, Iris and Aubrey get pregnant at 15. Iris is promptly kicked out of Catholic school but her mother, Sebi doesn’t allow her to get derailed. Sebi and her husband ‘Po’Boy’ are hard workers and maybe even considered ‘well to do’ as they move their family to a new neighborhood in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. When Melodie is just a baby, Aubrey’s mother dies of cancer and Sebi and Po’Boy receive him in their home like a son.
The narration is from the perspective of these persons, charged with caring for Melidie. For example, we hear about Aubrey and Iris’ lovestory from both of their perspectives. Each tell a very different tale. Aubrey, full of devotion, patience and contentment. While Iris’ story is full of searching, dishonesty and misrepresentation of herself to her self and others. She wasn’t my favorite character and even by the short books end i felt as if she would never find her way.
We also get to hear about Sebi and Po’boys lovestory, which was one of mutual devotion and respect. A building of something greater. When Sebi speaks she spits old wisdom that is quirky, familiar and true, if you have access to any old folks in your life.
Pros: Very interesting way to tell an old story of teenage pregnancy. I also liked the middle/upper class representation of blackness. Not all blackness is earmarked by poverty and lack. I also enjoyed Sebi and Po’Boy and would love a deeper story with these characters.
Cons: Each chapter is narrated from the perspective of a different character in a different space and time, in no real order. There’s also no real action here. The climax occurs when you, as the reader, piece together the history and future of each character. The fact this happens subtlety, I thought was beautiful. But, some reviewers have found this technique so subtle, they missed it and the time and character hopping, annoying.
To the books credit, its short – only a little over 200 pages. There are no wasted words. Each passage offers details needed to push the story forward. If it were any longer I would have tired of the story. I think its meant to be just a peek into the lives of these folks.
Overall, it was a #GoodBook and I enjoyed reading it. Book 10 of 42.