"Red at the Bone" by Jacqueline Woodson

By Jacqueline Woodson

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9780525535270

Every now and then we read a new novel centering on a group of people that feels timeless, reminiscent of other voices from classic literature, and Jacqueline Woodson's new novel "Red at the Bone" (forthcoming September 17th) manages to elicit that sensation.  The book opens with the coming of age ceremony for Melody, newly 16 and walking down the stairs to the tune of a Prince song while her parents, grandparents, and a young man her own age watch among other guests.  Three generations of this family unit are then narrated through  multiple characters reflections on their own aging, generating a continuous stream of memory that ricochets across time and completely absorbs the reader.  The language reflects the locale, from the Brooklyn brownstone that unites the family in the year 2001, to an Oberlin campus in the 90s, to the memories of the 1921 Tulsa riots.  Woodson's characters will evoke memories of voices that appear in works by authors such as Maya Angelou, Betty Smith, and Sherman Alexie.  Both young and old look back over shoulders at the lives lived, examining changes in mind and body in a conversational manner, inviting us like a close friend into a deep flow of reflection on memory and dreams that once were.   Melody's birth was the result of an unplanned teenage pregnancy, and this story centers on how her arrival changed the lives of the group of people gathered in the brownstone.  This is a book about the nuances of love, race, gender, independence and sexuality, told as though through the pages of private journals that detail the most tender and tucked away corners of hearts.  Woodson's characters raise  questions about relationships and fate, leading us to consider the answers we provide for ourselves and others about our own choices.  Above all, love looms large here, raw and tender below the surface where one character finds herself - broken open, feeling "red at the bone".  A work to cherish, will linger in your heart long after reading.

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