Book Review: Red At The Bone

Part of my 2020 goal is to continue reading books from authors of colour and also dip into older books from authors I should have in my reading repertoire. Jacqueline Woodson falls into the on trend authors of colour I probably should have known about already, but that’s ok, no time like the present, right? I got this book for Christmas and I’m ready to smash this goal. Written so stylistically and poetically, it was like reading a painting and I’m not mad at it, keep reading to see our review of Red At The Bone.

Synopsis:

The book springboards back and forth between characters and between time periods of a family’s complicated relationship. Iris and Aubrey become prematurely pregnant at the age of 15 with their daughter, Melody. This birth, becomes the family’s beacon of hope and regret; her grandmother’s chance at having the relationship and experience all the things she wished she had with her daughter. Everyone except for Iris is as thrilled, who seems to be repealed by her daughter and unable to find common ground only continuing the cycle of lost communication and unspoken truths with her own daughter.

Break it Down:

The book follows the internal dialogue of each character, it gives you insight on all the “baggage” they each carry, which leads them to make certain choices in their lives and how it shifts something else for one of the other characters; mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter. Iris grows up living a fairly “privileged” life and even more so due to the lighter tone of her skin, attraction and learns early on, she can use her body to get her what she wants out of boys. This theme continues on into her adulthood, especially when it comes to her treatment of Aubrey. This is the very opposite of her religious upbringing, she learns to hide a lot from her mother and for a reason never clarified, they can’t seem to find any common ground. Even the 1st time Iris goes to Aubrey’s house, the way she behaves and comments on his poverty, made me uncomfortable on Aubrey’s behalf. As her character develops, it becomes apparent she was merely using Aubrey, but for him the feelings were far deeper. Knowing he would do anything for her almost allowed her to disconnect from the growing baby in her stomach because she knew she would have someone to look after Melody. She was very detached from the process of motherhood, whether due to her age or the importance placed on the highly anticipated baby, which she never fully appeared to feel.

As a reader, I really liked Aubrey’s character, he was a loving person and adored his daughter and essentially gave up his dream, moved in with his in-laws in order to look after Melody. This decisions appears to disgust Iris, but I found it interesting because we are so used to female characters giving up on their dreams once they have children, especially at 15. We don’t get to know too much about Aubrey, after Iris heads off to college and why he never seemed to move on from Iris, but I suppose he figured if he stayed near, Iris would come to her senses and realize he was there for her all along. The way Woodson revealed Aubrey was a victim in the twin towers on September 11th, was so subtle and almost played it off as an inconsequential part of the storyline, but to me it was a real shock and sad. Maybe it’s because I really liked Aubrey’s character, so I’m biased-I didn’t want a main character to be killed off. I didn’t feel enough detail was given from Melody’s perspective or even Iris, over his death unless the author wanted to leave the reader to fill in the blanks, but my overthinking mind couldn’t handle it.

I found Iris’s character very elusive and withdrawn- to be honest, I struggled to connect with her and I didn’t really like her. Nothing in the book explained the reason she was so distant and unable to show her family the true Iris or why she never seemed to get along with her mother, Seb. I also couldn’t understand why she never gave Aubrey a real chance and why she strung him along for so many years when she wasn’t interested but also when she may not have been interested in men, it felt like she wasn’t being true to herself. I accept she was exploring in college, but toward the conclusion of the book, she is sleeping with Malcolm, whom she clearly states she’s just messing around with. Which left me scratching my head again, because I simply didn’t understand the purpose, it’s like she simply found yet another person she could use.

Negatives?:

It took some adjusting to get used to the back and forth between the characters and to be able to tell who they were from their individual “voices” within the book, as the author didn’t show the reader that there was an obvious distinction. I didn’t like it because I found myself re-reading sections to be certain it was the correct character. I also felt like the book could have been longer, there were character developments which probably could have done with being a bit more detailed. I completed the book still thirsting for more information and I hate leaving books that way, the conclusion felt rushed.

The RnR Rating:

3.5 out of 5

Would I recommend the book?:

100%, it’s deep and speaks to the trauma or baggage we carry with us and how it impacts the lives of the next generation, whether intentionally or not. Equally so, it speaks to the facts that we always have space to reconnect and build bridges in spite of the wounds. I felt sad, but optimistic at the close of the book.

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