RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson was born of one question — What happened to black people’s wealth? In Woodson’s attempt to answer that question, she writes in her author’s note, characters were born, events were remembered, and lives in all their beauty and despair are lived on the page. RED AT THE BONE is a compact novel of trauma and recovery, and all the messiness in between.
The novel opens with the coming-of-age party for Melody, sixteen and wearing a dress originally intended for her mother, Iris. An unexpected teenage pregnancy changed everything for Iris and her boyfriend Aubrey, who at fifteen years old became parents before they became anything else. From there, Woodson moves us flawlessly backward and forward in time to tell the story of a family whose dreams were once burned, yet they rose from the ashes.
“You remember your parents living, wrap the ancient photos of Lucille’s Hair Heaven and Papa Joe’s Supper Club pulled from the flames . . . and you rise. You rise. You rise.”
A multigenerational tale, RED AT THE BONE is remarkable in its brevity. Woodson pokes gingerly at race, class, gentrification, sexual orientation, parenting, and loss. Spanning nearly a hundred years from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre to the tragedy of 9/11, Woodson has a keen understanding of the human condition.
Sabe, Melody’s grandmother and Iris’ mother, knows a thing or two, and Woodson’s lyrical touch makes her wisdom sing. She’s shared the stories of how they burned her grandmama’s beauty shop to the ground, and her daddy’s restaurant, and how her own mama carries a scar in the shape of a heart, because they tried to burn her too. “History tries to call it a riot,” Woodson writes, “but it was a massacre.” The whites came with the intention of erasing their businesses, their schools, and their lives, and even though it happened before Sabe was born, she carried the memory of it. It was important to her to teach her child and her grandchild about what happened. Sabe is the thread that stitches the past to the present.
I recommend RED AT THE BONE for fans of Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING and Toni Morrison’s SULA.
This is Lin Salibury with Superior Reviews. Read all my reviews and listen to my author interviews at http://www.superiorreads.blog.