There’s so much to say about this story. I’m not sure I could do it justice in a few paragraphs on a caption, this one deserves an essay.  One day I might write one but for now, please accept another ramble while I gather my thoughts. I didn’t review this for a while because it’s been such a long time since a book really made me feel something…I didn’t want to overhype it (I think this may have been done already!) or worse… not give it enough recognition.

In very few words, Woodson can make a reader feel so much of someone else’s pain. There were times when it felt like I was hit with it repeatedly, very evocative. But it is so painful. In a way, that’s what this book is about. Pain and how we carry it, how we carry it across, how we give it away, how we pass it on, how we repress it, how it comes back for us, how it leaves us- if it leaves us.

What happens when a mother cannot create any dreams around her child. Indeed should a parent be dreaming for their child at all?

Through three generations of a family, Woodson explores motherhood, fatherhood, belonging, sexuality, womanhood, class in Black America, intergenerational trauma, race- all without overtly mentioning any of those themes. You come to it yourself.  Legacy – she explores legacy through the memories of Iris, Melody and Sabe, through the memories of Audrey and Po’ boy. There are interesting, multi dimensional male characters in this book but to me it still felt like a narrative about the power of mother-daughter relationships as the core of a family and how they impact everyone around them.

Beginning with the presentation of Melody and working back through Iris and Aubrey’s teenage pregnancy, Woodson explores what happens to a family when a mother’s dreams for her daughter seem dashed…but also what happens when a mother cannot create any dreams around her child. Indeed should a parent be dreaming for their child at all? Can we help it?  

The story is a real testament to how your experiences inform not only your own path but ultimately your children’s. Their children’s after that.  Each chapter is told in a very distinct voice, detailing the perspectives of different members of the family. It’s an exploration of what we leave for who we love. It’s a story about love, a deep love told through a series of revelations. Woodson is really reaching for your heartstrings, not in that superficial sad story movie way. More of reaching and squeezing where she knows it might hurt. I didn’t read another book for a few days afterwards as this stayed with me for a while.

It made me think a lot about transgenerational trauma, the possibility of passing down trauma through generations via PTSD mechanisms. This was probably Woodson’s intention: Sabe’s generation experienced trauma during the Tulsa Riots, which then reverberates through the story, manifesting itself in the way she raises Iris and subsequently the relationship Iris has with Melody. In later generations, this is revisited through the trauma of 9/11.

I really can’t believe Woodson managed to put so much into so few pages. If you want something to feel emotional about, get this book. Also, Red At The Bone has one of the best last pages I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever. Woodson made one word mean so much. Don’t open the book at the last page because I said that!

Amazing use of pop cultural references and events. You feel involved

It reminds me of one of those books I used to find by accident in the library as a teen and just love. It’s so genuine that I’d believe the author wrote for herself without the intention of an audience. In her interview on the Politics and Prose Podcast, she mentioned that she wrote without the White Gaze in mind, it is really evident in the book. There is no attempt to explain the origins of differences in class between Iris and Aubrey’s families or even that these lines exist. One of the best parts of the book is where Sabe speaks of her love for Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry because of the anti pretentiousness in his use of Black dialect and refusal to try and conform to more accepted ‘White’ speech. On the next page, Sabe watches with interest as her granddaughter ditches the Waltz for some new wave dance  The need to be accepted vs the need to just be. The generation who feared vs the generation who won’t apologise.

It feels like Woodson is just telling a story without trying to appease anybody. The simplicity and honesty of her writing is really the book’s power. There’s no overly fancy prose, there’s no sugar coating.

I loved the great use of literature and Black pop cultural references to convey time. You feel involved. From Prince playing at the beginning to NWA to Audre Lourde and For Coloured Girls to Jay Z and all neatly looped full circle with Prince referenced at the end as well…I mean…

Obviously don’t need to say this but I am undoubtedly a Jacqueline Woodson fan now, I have to read Another Brooklyn next

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