Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Read by Jacqueline Woodson, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small, Bahni Turpin
Published September 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
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.
I am not the least bit surprised to have found this book on 2019 best-of lists. After reading it late in the year, I had to make the difficult decision as to which book on my list of books I loved in 2019 I was moving off the list to make room for this book. It's so good that Edith Wharton, one of my favorite authors, almost had to come off the list. And just what makes it so good, you ask?
Woodson's brilliance is this: she can tell the most layered, emotional story in the fewest words of any writer I've read. This book is only 200 pages long but manages to tell the story of three generations of a family while touching on, as you can see by the summary, so many important themes. In just about 200 pages, Woodson manages to tell the story of three generations and leave readers feeling like they really know these people. She can, even, make readers rethink issues that we've long felt certain about - here a mother who doesn't bond with her daughter. Woodson manages to make Iris not quite the evil woman we mother, in particular, might consider her. She helps readers to understand Iris' choices and allows us to consider the possibility that Melody is better off without Iris as her mother. It's a tough sell but Woodson handles it beautifully.
I clearly recommend this book but I even more strongly recommend the audiobook. The readers are all wonderful; I felt that I was actually listening to people relating their own stories not merely reading a book.