Red at the Bone: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Jacqueline Woodson’s latest dreamily moves between characters and across time as she chronicles the lives of two families brought together by a teen pregnancy and fractured when the still-teenage mother leaves them behind for a far-away college. Issues of race, class and sexual identity play out in the family, from memories of the Tulsa Race Massacre to the two family’s economic differences, to the mother’s secretive relationship with a fellow student in college. Music swirls through the narrative, from the jazz clubs of Oakland to a 1990s Wu Tang Clan concert to the sounds of Prince at a coming-of-age party. And words swirl through the story too; Red at the Bone might be called a novel, but it’s surely as much a poem, a shimmering ode to survival.

— Daniel Goldin

Red at the Bone is a view inside the thoughts of several family members during their new life after a teen pregnancy. Melody is the wonderful unexpected child at the center of their story, with its three generations of hard-won survival and success. Family traditions are challenged, and Woodson cuts to the heart of what we are as people, what makes us afraid, what triggers our love, why we get confused, and why we’re desperate for certainty. The pain and the beauty of being human are always piercing in a Woodson novel. It happens so quickly in her writing, small details that suddenly open whole worlds of emotion. It’s amazing. She’s magic!

— Tim McCarthy

A ticketed event with Jacqueline Woodson, in conversation with Dasha Kelly Hamilton - Monday, September 23, 7 pm. $28 includes a copy of Red at the Bone and all taxes and fees. More info at This is the annual Rose Petranech Lecture.

— Boswell Book Company

Jacqueline Woodson has a breathtaking ability to tell a complex story in a few carefully chosen words. But exquisite writing is only one of the reasons I loved this jewel of a book. It’s the richly developed characters who really give the story power. Melody is turning sixteen, and her African American family has gathered at her grandparent’s house for a celebration. As a crowd watches, she walks down the stairs wearing the white dress her grandmother purchased for another coming-of-age party, one that never took place. The reason? Melody’s mother, Iris, was fifteen and pregnant. The complications of Melody’s very existence echo through the generations, bringing forward painful memories for each character. At the heart of this book are the choices that Melody and her parents make regarding their relationships to each other as they search for their paths in life. Along the way, Woodson examines the issue of social class within the African American community, making Red at the Bone deeply thought-provoking. My favorite books are the ones that ask readers to look inward and ask “What would I do?” and from that perspective Woodson’s latest shines bright. 

— From Jenny's Staff Recommendations


"Gorgeous, moving…A story of love—romantic and familial—and alienation, grief and triumph, disaster and survival." —Nylon
"To understand the soul of a woman, we must understand the heart of the girl she once was... This poignant tale of choices and their aftermath, history and legacy, will resonate with mothers and daughters. There is pain on these pages but hope glimmers between the lines." –Tayari Jones, bestselling author of An American Marriage, in O Magazine

Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by People, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, Parade, Vox, Time and more

An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson's taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody's coming of age ceremony in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody's mother, for her own ceremony-- a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody's parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they've paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives--even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

About the Author

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books, including the 2016 New York Times–bestselling National Book Award finalist for adult fiction, Another Brooklyn. Among her many accolades, Woodson is a four-time National Book Award finalist, a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a two-time NAACP Image Award Winner, and a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her New York Times–bestselling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, received the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson is also the 2018–2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and the recipient of the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. In 2015, she was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in New York.

Praise For…

Praise for Red at the Bone:

"[A] remarkable and moving portrait of a family in a changing Brooklyn. . . There's not a single unnecessary word."—Refinery29 

"For those still mourning the loss of Toni Morrison, it’s essential that you direct your attention to National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson." –The Observer

"A family portrait that transcends the bounds of time. Woodson, a National Book Award winner, writes with fluidity, grace and finesse, pulling the plot tight in the final word." –

"Woodson knows how to articulate aches that, for most of us, remain locked in articulateness—particularly the very human craving for validation.  In her latest, Red at the Bone, the National Book Award winner uses this gift to unpack the ambitions and struggles of three generations of a black family in Brooklyn.  By the slim novel’s end, she’s painted a poetic mural of their lives."—Elle
"Emotionally transfixing.” —Entertainment Weekly

"A novel you won't soon forget, one that begs to be discussed." —PopSugar
"A slim novel with tremendous emotional power." —Real Simple
"Red at the Bone is fall’s hottest novel." —Town & Country 
"You’ll love every last word of this beautiful book." —HelloGiggles
"[A]s teenage Melody takes part in a coming-of-age ceremony, the history of her New York family unfurls, and three generations of longing and ambition come into razor-sharp focus." —Vanity Fair
"Red at the Bone breaks down the ways in which parenthood changes people for both better and worse and what it means to find your true identity." —Parade, Most Anticipated Books of Fall
"Woodson’s language is as elliptical and dreamy as poetry, but it’s always grounded in story and character, like prose. Red at the Bone is a family story that is sparked by an unexpected teenage pregnancy, simultaneously unspooling backward and forward in time." —Vox
"Jacqueline Woodson deftly touches on race, class, religion, and sexuality in a spare but poignant multigenerational portrait of a Brooklyn family." —Business Insider

"A beautifully written examination not just of the bonds of family, but also of how alone one can feel within it…. Woodson paints a portrait of people who can barely remember who they once were, yet live with the echoes of their past selves every day. This lyrical novel makes the reader feel like they are present at a moment both they, and the characters, are attempting to unpack together." —BUST
"Slender miracle of a novel [that] performs a magic trick with time….Woodson skips back and forth between the decades so deftly that it feels like it all happens in a heartbeat." —Family Circle
"Jacqueline Woodson is moving and shaking in both YA and adult literature realms. Her new adult novel brings together a clash of social classes via an unexpected pregnancy . . . Two words: can’t wait." —The Millions, Most Anticipated 2019

"[Jacqueline Woodson’s] books combine unique details of her characters’ lives with the sounds, sights and especially music of their surroundings, creating stories that are both deeply personal and remarkably universal….this lyrical, lightly told coming-of-age story is bound to satisfy." —BookPage

"[A] beautifully imagined novel. . . Woodson’s nuanced voice evokes the complexities of race, class, religion, and sexuality in fluid prose and a series of telling details. This is a wise, powerful, and compassionate novel." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Woodson famously nails the adolescent voice. But so, too, she burnishes all her characters' perspectives. . . In Woodson, at the height of her powers, readers hear the blues: ‘beneath that joy, such a sadness.’" —Kirkus, starred review 

Praise for Jacqueline Woodson:

 "Jacqueline Woodson has such an original vision, such a singular voice." —Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth  
"Woodson brings the reader so close to her young characters that you can smell the bubble gum on their breath and feel their lips as they brush against your ear."— Tayari Jones, New York Times-bestselling author of An American Marriage

"Jacqueline Woodson is a master storyteller." —Angela Flournoy, author of the National Book Award finalist The Turner House
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525535270
ISBN-10: 0525535276
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: September 17th, 2019
Pages: 208