Sunday, May 24, 2020

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Families are dynamic.

Families are unique.

Families are fluid.

Families are us.

Jaqueline Woodson introduces us to a nuanced family story in her lyrical way of dropping nuggets of deep meaning in an offering that is redeeming.

This is one story. One family. Yet, so many of us who are African American can resonate with the tale of yearning and acceptance; loss and redemption; belonging and longing.

Told through the alternating voices of everyone in this small unit, she gives us a glimpse of the choices we all make when faced with circumstances that may or may not alter the rest of our lives.

This is a modern story, yet timeless. It stretches back to wisdom and wit to save a bit, to own one's dreams, and to leave something for the next generation. It is as modern as when I was in college in the mid80s and a young parent in the early 90s. Woodson expertly drops in cultural markers that familiarize this story while keeping its message eternal.

It is as much the story of a teenage girl's coming out party as much as it is her mother's story of self-discovery, her father's story of belonging, and her grandparent's story of settling into a place.

Set in the New York of Woodson's own family story, this invites us to ponder how we arrived at a place and what it took to stay there, who we count in as being a part of us, and how we decide when the us as family may be too stifling, for a time, and we have to find our own way.

Melody, Iris, and Sabe, three generations of women, are the central figures of this tale that is beyond mother-daughter, but has the subtle thread that pulls us into the complexities of expectation and custom.

Malcolm, Aubrey, and PoBoy are the men in these women's lives who have the other side of the story, remembering things similarly and differently, allowing us to have a full picture of a self. Their voices are different, each told through the looking glass of time.

This is a beautifully written book that leaves us with enough hope for all their futures.

I picked up this book on Friday afternoon. It is Memorial Day Weekend. It is a time in my own late father's family when we would have all arrived at one of his siblings' homes in the Benton Harbor area for a long weekend of BBQ, family gatherings, and a memorial walk to the cemetery. We would have told the stories so they would not have been forgotten. My father and all his siblings are gone now. I am far from his migratory childhood from Arkansas to Michigan, and yet, the memories flooded me as I read this story of yearning and wanting, of love and disappointment, of acceptance and resilience. Jacqueline Woodson has gifted us again. You still have time to read it this weekend and carry the treasure with you for a long time to come.

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