Red At The Bone By Jacqueline Woodson – Book Review

Jacqueline Woodson’s critically acclaimed novel, Red at the Bone, is an emotionally charged exploration of family dynamics, identity, and class. Through its unique narrative structure and compelling characters, Woodson crafts a story that is both relatable and thought-provoking. In this book review, we will delve into the plot, characters, themes, and writing style of this powerful novel, and examine why it has become an instant classic.

Red At The Bone By Jacqueline Woodson - Book Review

Overview of Red At The Bone

Red at the Bone: A Novel

Red at the Bone is a beautifully crafted novel that explores the complex relationships between parents and children, and how they are impacted by decisions made in their past. The story revolves around two families, the Lees and the Iris’, whose lives become intertwined when their children, Melody and Aubrey, unexpectedly become parents.

The novel is set in Brooklyn, New York, and moves back and forth through time, telling the stories of these characters and connecting them to the larger themes of identity and family history.

Plot Summary

The novel opens on Melody’s sixteenth birthday, where she is participating in a coming-of-age ceremony that her mother never had the chance to experience. The ceremony is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices that Iris made for her daughter, and the challenges she faced as a single mother.

The story then jumps back in time to the moment Melody’s parents, Iris and Aubrey, first met in high school. Their relationship quickly becomes complicated when Aubrey is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, leaving Iris to raise their child alone. The novel continues to oscillate between past and present, gradually building toward Melody’s birthday party where secrets are revealed, and the characters must confront their past decisions.

Woodson’s writing is masterful, and she weaves together the different timelines with skill and precision. The result is a novel that is both emotionally resonant and intellectually stimulating.

Main Characters

The two main families in the novel, the Lees and the Iris’, are both well-drawn and complex. Iris, Melody’s mother, is a driven woman who sacrificed her own dreams to raise her daughter alone. Her determination and resilience are inspiring, and her love for her daughter is palpable throughout the novel.

Aubrey, Melody’s father, is haunted by his experiences in the war and struggles to connect with his daughter. His journey towards redemption is one of the most compelling aspects of the novel.

The Lees are a wealthy and influential family, but they too are grappling with their own demons. Sabe, Melody’s grandmother, is a fascinating character, and her backstory adds depth and nuance to the novel.

To Woodson’s credit, no character is wholly good or bad, but rather a mix of both, making them feel lived-in and authentic. The result is a novel that is both complex and relatable.

Themes Explored

One of the most significant themes of Red at the Bone is identity. Each character is grappling with their sense of self in relation to their families, their class, and their race. The novel explores how our identities are shaped by our experiences, and how they can change over time.

The emotional impact of family history is another essential theme in the novel. The characters are all dealing with the legacy of their ancestors, and their decisions are influenced by the past.

Class and socioeconomic status are also important themes in the story. The differences between the Lees and Iris’ highlight how privilege and power can impact our lives in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The novel raises important questions about social inequality and the American Dream.

In conclusion, Red at the Bone is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that explores the complexities of family, identity, and social inequality. Woodson’s writing is beautiful and evocative, and her characters are unforgettable. This is a novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Writing Style

Woodson‘s writing style in Red at the Bone is both poetic and accessible. The narrative structure of the novel is unique, with each chapter moving back and forth through time and offering a different perspective on the story. This keeps the reader engaged and invested in the characters, as they slowly reveal who they are and how they came to be where they are. Woodson’s use of language and imagery is also noteworthy, with striking metaphors and descriptions that add depth and emotion to the story.

Unique Narrative Structure

The back and forth structure of Red at the Bone could be confusing, but Woodson masterfully ties everything together. Each character’s perspective offers vital insights, and the way they connect builds tension and suspense as the novel progresses. By the end, the reader has a full picture of each character’s past and present, and how their decisions have impacted their lives.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel’s structure is the way it mirrors the characters’ lives. Just as the narrative moves back and forth through time, the characters themselves are constantly grappling with their pasts and their futures. The novel’s structure is a testament to Woodson’s skill as a storyteller, as she manages to weave together multiple timelines and perspectives into a cohesive and emotionally resonant whole.

Use of Language and Imagery

Woodson’s prose is evocative and immersive, transporting the reader into the minds of her characters. Her imagery and metaphors are particularly striking, with descriptions of emotions and settings that linger long after the book is finished. For example, when Aubrey describes the sound of bombs in the war, Woodson writes, “the ground shuddered, and you could feel the world rearranging itself.” These moments elevate the novel and make it feel more than a simple story.

Another example of Woodson’s powerful use of language is her description of the dress that Iris wears to her coming-of-age ceremony. Woodson writes, “Iris’s dress was the color of sunset, the fabric flowing like water around her.” This description not only paints a vivid picture of the dress, but also captures the beauty and significance of the ceremony itself.

Emotional Impact

Red at the Bone is a deeply emotional novel that explores difficult themes with sensitivity and nuance. Woodson handles complex issues like race and class with care, never making the story feel didactic or preachy. Instead, she aims to humanize her characters and show the reader how their decisions impact their lives. By the end, the novel will leave the reader feeling both sad and hopeful, a testament to Woodson’s skill as a storyteller.

The novel’s emotional impact is largely due to the way Woodson approaches her characters. Each character is given a rich and complex backstory, and their motivations and desires are always clear. This makes it easy for the reader to empathize with them, even when their actions are not always admirable. Woodson’s ability to create fully realized and sympathetic characters is what makes Red at the Bone such a powerful and affecting novel.

Critical Reception and Awards

Red at the Bone, a novel by Jacqueline Woodson, has received widespread critical acclaim since its release in 2019. The novel tells the story of multiple generations of an African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York, and explores themes of class, race, and identity.

The novel was a finalist for the 2020 American Library Association Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, an award that recognizes outstanding fiction and nonfiction for adult readers. It was also named on numerous “best of” lists for the year, including the New York Times Bestseller list and the Time Magazine 100 Must-Read Books of 2019.

Praise from Critics

Critics have praised Woodson’s skill in weaving together different perspectives to create a complex and emotional story. Publishers Weekly called it “gorgeous and moving” and praised Woodson’s exploration of class and race. Similarly, The New York Times called it a “powerful and poignant” novel that “explores both the momentous and the mundane.”

Woodson’s writing has also been compared to that of Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning author known for her exploration of African-American identity and experience.

Awards and Nominations

In addition to being a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal, Red at the Bone has also been named a longlist nominee for the National Book Award and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. The National Book Award is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize recognizes fiction that “illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.”

These accolades are a testament to Woodson’s skill as a storyteller and the impact her novel has had on readers and critics alike.

Reader Reviews

Readers have also been effusive in their praise of Red at the Bone. Many have noted how deeply the novel affected them and how much they connected with the characters. One reviewer on Goodreads wrote, “I loved this book so much. The writing is beautiful and poetic. The structure of the story is unique and added so much depth to the characters.” Another reviewer on Amazon wrote, “This is a beautifully written book that explores family, love, and the complexities of identity. I highly recommend it.”

Reviews like these highlight the impact that Red at the Bone has had on readers and how much they appreciate Woodson’s writing.

Exploring the Themes of Red At The Bone

While the plot and characters of Red at the Bone are compelling, it is the novel’s exploration of complex themes that makes it such an essential read for our time. Woodson tackles issues like race, class, and family history with sensitivity and nuance, offering a full picture of how these things impact our lives.

Family Dynamics and Relationships

Red at the Bone is ultimately a story about families and how they shape us. Throughout the novel, the characters grapple with their relationships to their parents and children, trying to understand how past decisions have impacted their lives. The story demonstrates how family history can be both a burden and a source of strength.

Race and Identity

Race and identity are essential themes in Red at the Bone, with each character grappling with their sense of self in relation to their race. The novel explores how our identity is shaped by both our individual experiences and our larger cultural context. It also highlights how race impacts our relationships with others and the world around us.

Socioeconomic Status and Class

The novel’s exploration of class and socioeconomic status is one of its most noteworthy aspects. Through the Lees and Iris’ families, Woodson highlights the differences in opportunity and power that come from being born into wealth. The story also explores how poverty and privilege impact our sense of self and our connections to others.


Red at the Bone is a powerful and emotional novel that explores complex themes with sensitivity and nuance. Through its unique narrative structure and compelling characters, Jacqueline Woodson has crafted a story that is both intimate and universal. It is a novel that will stay with the reader long after they have finished it, reminding them of the power of family history and the importance of understanding our sense of self in relation to the world around us.

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Eddison Monroe