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"Red at the Bone" by Jaqueline Woodson |Guest Review by Katie of @goodbooksatl

Meet Katie from Atlanta!

IG: @goodbooksatl

About Katie:

Favorite Genre:

Top 5 books of all time:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What do you usually look for in a book?

I prefer to read books by Black women with Black women as the main characters. In a sense, I’m looking for myself when I pick up a book.

Katie's Review: (contains minor spoilers)

What did you like best about this book?

I love books that tell the same story from different perspectives, and that was a central device that Jacqueline Woodson used to tell this multi-generational story. As a reader, I got a peek into the story of a family from the 1920s when their ancestors were nearly killed in the Tulsa Massacre up to 2001 when the Twin Towers fell. These two catastrophic events played a major role in the family’s collective story.

As I read, I recognize how generational trauma (sometimes from outside forces) can change the trajectory of entire families. With the multiple voices filling in the gaps of their collective story and two man-made disasters bookending a significant portion of the family history, I felt that it came full circle.

What did you like least about this book?

Because the book was so short, I didn’t feel like I got an in-depth look at all the characters. I would’ve liked if they were more developed with distinct stories that fed into the larger narrative.

What were the top 5-7 themes of the book?

As this book covered several generations, it included many themes. The ones that stood out to me the most were:

Generational trauma and generational wealth: The generational trauma passed on to the grandmother had a big role in the generational wealth she was able to pass to her daughter and granddaughter.

Overcoming judgment: When Iris is ostracized by the community for becoming a teen mom, her mother is embarrassed but refuses to apologize for her daughter. Instead, the family chooses to rise.

Vulnerability in romantic relationships: To be vulnerable is to open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt. Aubrey and Iris were both vulnerable, just with different lovers.

Legacy: Iris bucks her family’s legacy. Melody clings to it. Aubrey, while not a member of the family by blood, continues the positive aspects of his mother’s legacy and faces a similar fate as his daughter’s ancestors.

Did the book seem relatable/ realistic for you? Why or why not?

Red at the Bone did seem realistic. I can easily see this being a real family’s story. Red at the Bone was relatable in the sense that I’m Black and could see people I know in each of the characters, but I couldn’t personally relate to the family’s overarching story and status. Woodson put a heavy emphasis on the family’s legacy and wealth. The grandparents went to college and pledged a Black fraternity and sorority. The opening scene is a cotillion, and the grandmother stashes gold. Their ancestors owned property and were prosperous before the Tulsa Massacre. That’s not my family’s testimony. My grandparents were sharecroppers. Owning land and property was a foreign concept until very recently. I felt a class disconnect with the family but still could empathize with their particular struggles.

What did you learn from the book, if anything? What were your key takeaways?

Red at the Bone taught me to examine my own internalized misogyny. Iris, the main character, bothered me to my core. And I realized it was because she didn’t fit into the typical mold of a “good mother.” She refused to make sacrifices. She insisted on keeping her child when she found out she was pregnant at 15 but then decided she didn’t want to raise Melody. I didn’t like it. I wanted her to be more maternal, more loving, and more selfless. But then when I dug deeper and asked myself why I didn’t like her, I realized that I was imposing arbitrary societal rules on a fictional character.

What questions do you still have after reading the book?

The deaths in the books felt rushed to me. I’d like to know more about the circumstances of each one and how they impacted the remaining family members emotionally.

Have you read anything else on this topic? If so what other books on this topic would you recommend?

I’ve read other books that tell a story from multiple perspectives. I’d recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward if you like books that use that literary device.

Would you read something by this author again?

I would read another book by Jacqueline Woodson. Red at the Bone was marketed to adults, but I’ve also heard great things about her young adult novels.

Thank you Katie for such an amazing review!

If you've read this book, we'd love to know what you thought about it!

Until next time,

-- Indulge Endlessly.

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