Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson review – heartbreak and joy
In US author Jacqueline Woodson’s haunting novel, a 16-year-old girl’s coming-of-age party prompts an avalanche of memories for her middle-class African American family. Melody is smart, pretty, private school privileged and much adored by her father, Aubrey, and proud grandparents, Sabe and Po’Boy. Melody is also the product of a teenage pregnancy that has left her estranged from her mother, Iris, who chose the distance of college in Ohio over nappies, baby bottles and the domesticity of her parents’ Brooklyn brownstone.
The baby bump deprived Iris of her own introduction into society: now she must look on as her daughter descends the stairs wearing the white dress she was not permitted to wear and is serenaded by an orchestra playing an instrumental version of Prince’s “Darling Nikki”. On a spring day in 2001, while Melody and Malcolm, her childhood friend and date, swirl around the dance floor, so do the memories for the teenager and the key players in her life. Melody can’t help but observe that her relationship with her mother is full of regrets and thorns. “That afternoon, the years that separated us could have been fifty – Iris standing at the bottom of the stairs watching me. Me looking away from her. Where was I looking? At my father? My grandparents? At anything. At anyone. But her.”
There is an abundance of angst over class, gender and race subtly woven into this beguilingly slim novel. Woodson frames each chapter from the point of view of a different character ...
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