book review: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson



RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson
Riverhead, 2019


In Red at the Bone, a quick, engrossing, fairly plotless read, Jacqueline Woodson dissects the anatomy of a family.  She’s able to skillfully distill a collection of lives down to their bare essentials, without anything feeling rushed or underdeveloped, a feat in a book that’s scarcely 200 pages.  The novel is narrated by a handful of characters and centers on Melody, a teenage girl preparing for her coming of age ceremony in her family’s home in Brooklyn.  The narrative then weaves in and out of the past and present, in short, readable chapters, all pervaded by a sense of nostalgia and melancholy.

At times I found Woodson’s writing a tad overwrought (here I will cite the most obvious offender: WHY do authors feel compelled to have characters narrate their own births – has anyone else noticed that this is a growing trend?!).  However, on the whole I found that subjects were navigated with deftness and subtlety – the chapter in particular which introduces a major world event I found positively gutting.

The downside of short, punchy books like this is that they never tend to leave much of a lasting impression on me, and I doubt Red at the Bone will be an exception in the long run, but I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it.

Women’s Prize 2020 reviewsDominicana | Fleishman is in TroubleGirl | Girl, Woman, Other | How We Disappeared | Red at the Bone | Weather

You can pick up a copy of Red at the Bone here on Book Depository.

25 thoughts on “book review: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

    • (stupidly late comment, sorry!!) IT IS ABSOLUTELY A TREND. I think it’s the third time this year alone that I’ve encountered it?! Not the first time by a long shot but I definitely think it’s becoming more of a thing lately… and it needs to end immediately.

      Anyway thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I don’t remember the character narrating their own birth part, but maybe it’s because the novel hasn’t really stayed with me either, even if I did remember enjoying it. But I usually hate it when I see it—it’s right up there with “And it was all just a dream”. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • (sorry for the late reply!) Thank you! Yeah it’s definitely not a very memorable book – I saw someone refer to a twist at the end only a week after I finished it and I thought ‘wait, what twist?!’ Which is too bad because I did have a great time reading it (birth scene aside – you’re lucky you don’t remember it!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that’s so interesting, because the only other Woodson I’ve read (Another Brooklyn) was on audio and it has to have been one of the most forgettable reading experiences of my life.


  2. I haven’t noticed a trend of characters narrating their own births but if it is, that’s terrible! As someone who has given birth – there is a very good reason we don’t remember our own births!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read another of her novels and though I really enjoyed reading it, it’s true that it didn’t leave a lasting effect on my memory.

    Liked by 1 person

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