In Other Words: Red at the Bone

In Other Words: Red at the Bone

Jacqueline Woodson weaves a complex, multi-generational story in her short modern fiction.
Published: February 22, 2022 | Updated: September 30th, 2022 at 5:04 pm
An illustration of a Brooklyn brownstone
The book opens with Melody's coming of age ceremony in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone.

In Other Words is The NewsHouse’s biweekly book review. Contributors Ashley Clemens and Chloe Langerman cover everything from fantasy to modern fiction to memoirs. At the end of their reviews, they’ll share a recording of their favorite passage from each book. 


Red at the Bone reads like 200 pages of pure poetry, each sentence full of meaning regarding family, loss, love and the Black experience in America. The book begins with 16-year-old Melody descending the stairs at her coming out party, a tradition that has persisted through generations of her family’s history. But it is only a snapshot in time after all that it took for her and her family to arrive in this moment.

In each chapter, the novel switches between different characters’ perspectives. At times it’s Melody’s voice and sometimes her grandparents’, but the story is mostly narrated by her mother and father, Iris and Aubrey. Iris comes from wealth and has two loving parents. Aubrey relies on food stamps to survive and has only heard of his father through stories from his mother. In 10th grade, Iris becomes pregnant with Aubrey’s baby. They agree to keep the child, but once Melody is born, Iris grows disenchanted with the idea of motherhood.

The multiple perspective layout of the novel and the switches between place and time show how this blended family came to be. Every character has their own weight they must carry and is forced to reflect on the memories of their past. The dialogue in the novel is in italics instead of traditional quotation marks, making the conversations feel like distant memories. While the experiences are no longer tangible, the characters still feel their intense emotion.

Each character has their own struggles and their own complexities that make them human. No family is perfect, and the trio of Melody, Aubrey and Iris is no exception. Iris, whose desire to leave her hometown and her family to explore a life of her own, is at times unlikable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s part of what makes Red at the Bone refreshingly real. Just as its title alludes, the characters are vulnerable and raw, and the story goes into an emotional realm that is past what may be comfortable for some.

In other words, 4.5/5 stars.