Red at the Bone

Riverhead. Sept. 2019. 208p. ISBN 9780525535270. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780525535294.
One could do no better justice to this stunning book from the multi-award-crowned Woodson (Another Brooklyn) than to quote its dedication: “For the ancestors, a long long line of you bending and twisting bending and twisting.” That quote exemplifies the sense of family, of connectedness, of endurance that is the legacy of Woodson’s characters, further captured when our young heroine Melody says, “Maybe this was the moment when I knew I was part of a long line of almost erased stories.” The narrative opens with Melody celebrating her 16th birthday at her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone, wearing the white dress originally made for Melody’s mother, Iris, for her own 16th birthday celebration, which never took place because she was pregnant with Melody. Before the ceremony, Iris, heretofore an indifferent mother, urgently tries to impart a sense of heightened expectation and responsibility to an exasperated Melody, which launches the family stories at the heart of the book, from Melody’s grandparents barely surviving the 1921 Tulsa race riots to Iris’s pregnancy, refusal to marry Melody’s father, and determination to regain the freedom she might have lost with Melody’s birth.
VERDICT An aching story of family and class, ambition and gentrification, sexual desire and what motherhood really means, rendered in beautifully precise language. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.]
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