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Book Review: ‘Red at the Bone’ by Jacqueline Woodson

…she had to take slow breaths to calm herself. She felt red at the bone―like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding.

“Red at the Bone” by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of three generations of two families united by an unexpected pregnancy. The poetic flow distracts the reader from the disorganization of each characters’ stories, but it’s an effortless read that creates a memorable world between the characters and their situations.

The story opens up to Melody, on her sixteenth birthday, wearing her mother’s dress at her party. Her mother, Iris, never wore it because, at that tender age, she and her boyfriend Aubrey discover they will be having baby Melody. The pages go through the growing pains of their parents—Iris’ Spelhouse-coupled mother and father and Aubrey’s single mother—stretching beyond their limits to accept the baby. Then we see how Iris and Aubrey grow apart with Aubrey raising Melody and Iris heading off to college to start over. Iris and Aubrey have to decide on how they want to live their lives after having Melody and maturing into adulthood.

The author does a great job of chopping up the story in digestible pieces with short chapters and very short paragraphs but simultaneously making the character’s mark known without starting with his/her name. The story grows yet it picks up in various places with Iris, for example, in college then the next succeeding chapter can be her back in time dealing with her pregnancy or even before Melody.

It’s a nice and succinct read that incorporates black culture like Iris’ parents graduating from Spelman College and Morehouse College and history with her great-grandmother surviving the Tulsa race massacre. The story takes place in the not-so-distant past in 2001 New York City. Overall, the book covers a lot of ground chronicling a family that comes together for a child.

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