2019 releases · women's prize for fiction

Women’s Prize Reviews #3: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Image result for red at the boneIs it possible that my Women’s Prize longlist experience curse is broken? Stay tuned, but I did finally like a book after a rough 2-star start. Red at the Bone was one I was moderately interested in reading and a book I usually overlooked, but I am happy to report that it was really good.

Red at the Bone is a family story, that starts in 2001, on Melody’s coming of age party in her grandparents’ home in Brooklyn. From there, the story unspools back to her mother and her father, and then even further to her grandparents. Told from multiple perspectives, this is a story about mothers, fathers and daughters, but it’s also a contemplation on identity, ambition, education and class.


I found myself really enjoying this novel and its structure. I am a sucker for family stories, especially when they are told from multiple perspectives and it really worked for me here. At its core, this is a story about Melody, whose parents had her when they were sixteen. Melody has a really complex relationship with her mother, Iris, and my favorite part of this novel was definitely the exploration of how their relationship developed and deteriorated. Iris never really understood what her decision to keep the baby when she was 16 would bring, and she found herself stifled by Melody, and Melody’s father Aubrey, and she left them for four years to go to college. I think the author did a really amazing job of portraying Iris – showing her as a flawed woman, who had to make some difficult choices, but also showing how she cared for and loved Melody, but how she was to young to become a mother. Iris’ struggles with her identity, her sexual desire and her own place in the world were I think the best part of this novel, and definitely my favorite part of it.

I also think Melody’s relationship with Aubrey, her dad, was really well-written and it broke my heart a few times. Aubrey comes from a poor family and the author really managed to contrast Aubrey’s background to Iris’ and to show through that how stark class differences can be and what they mean for someone who comes from a poor background, how that also affects relationships and how it sort of shapes the path one takes. We also got Melody’s grandparents’ perspectives, and their love story is also told in glimpses in here, which was a lovely addition.

This novel takes on and explores themes of class and education and identity, but the thing I enjoyed about it is that it never feels like this takes on more than it can chew. The book doesn’t suffer from the fact that it is under 200 pages, and to me it felt like a well-rounded story that managed to say all that it wanted to and in a very nuanced way. It’s a contained story, about one particular family, but it also manages to go beyond one particular family and explore more broad issues in a worthy way.

The writing in here is stunning, the prose really rhythmic and resonant, that really compels and draws you in.

I will say that some chapters were more interesting to me than others, and I did find myself at times checking out in certain parts, but I do feel like every perspective made sense for the story that the author was trying to tell.


I would definitely recommend this one, it’s written beautifully, and it’s one of those family stories that really resonates and sticks with you.


ALSO, I am stealing Hannah’s format and showing my current rankings of the Women’s Prize Longlist books.


1. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
2. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (review)
3.Weather by Jenny (review)


I would love to hear from you! Have you been reading anything from the longlist? Thoughts so far? Have you read Red at the Bone? Let me know!

In the meantime, happy reading





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16 thoughts on “Women’s Prize Reviews #3: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

  1. Ah, great review! I’ve just started this one and am hoping to have a good time with it. I love short books that can accomplish a lot without feeling like they’re overreaching. Also enthused that you liked the prose! I haven’t read enough to make up my mind about the style yet but I am glad to see it worked so well for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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