Red at the Bone is a literary fiction of three generations by Jacqueline Woodson.
Sixteen-year-old Melody is celebrating her coming-of-age party when the novel begins. It is a traditional event that honors the family’s African American roots. She thinks about the choices that her parents and grandparents made and how that has shaped her identity and her family’s history.
We get to see multiple perspectives in Red at the Bone, including those of Melody’s parents and grandparents. Each family member has their own story of love, loss, and resilience, and these stories weave into a complex relationship.
The book explores the themes of family, love, loss, resilience, and identity.
Iris got pregnant and had a baby at the age of 15. She’d been having sex since she was 13, but didn’t quite understand how reproduction worked. When she got pregnant, her parents were disappointed and her mother reacted by hitting her. As her pregnancy became more obvious, the Catholic girls’ school kicked her out and the family moves to escape the judgment of their local community.
After Iris is expelled from school, she starts spending most of her days watching television; her mother thinks that she is studying. That lasts until Aubrey’s mother, CathyMarie, decides to start meeting her at the library for classes.
After CathyMarie dies, Aubrey moves in to live with Iris’ family. He is set up to live in the guest room until the baby comes. When Iris has the baby, she is scared by her depth of feeling and decides to escape. She feels trapped by the baby’s need to be fed. While she rushes home during breaks to feed the baby, she lets Aubrey and the grandparents do most of the caretaking as she continues her studies. She’s intent on escaping both Aubrey and Melody by going as far away as she can to study for four years.
Creating a New Life
At university, Iris has a chance to build a new life. She explores her sexuality with another female student. Their relationship ends once her friend finds out that Iris has a baby; Iris had let her believe that the baby was her sister.
Once the four years were over, Iris returned to the city but found an apartment of her own. Melody continued to live with her grandparents and would visit and stay over sometimes on Saturdays. Aubrey continued to live with the grandparents. It’s not clear what the relationship was between Iris and Aubrey over the years. They don’t seem to have been a couple, but we don’t know about any other relationships.
At the age of 16, Melody has her coming out ceremony. All the family is present. The love between them is clear, but the nature of that love is more difficult to determine. The tension between Iris and Melody is clear. We meet Melody’s friend, Malcolm. Despite the curiosity of the rest of the family, they are not dating; Malcolm is gay.
The Ending of Red at the Bone
Aubrey was mostly content with life. He worked in a mailroom and died in the attacks on the twin towers in New York. Then Po’Boy dies and Sabe is ready to join him. She’s still looking over Melody and Iris, though, hoping that they will heal their relationship before she passes.
In the last chapter of Red at the Bone, Sabe has died. Melody is anxious to finish one last task in the house where she grew up before heading to Malcolm’s farewell party; he’s going to attend Stanford. We don’t know what the relationship is between Iris and Melody as they work together to pry up a stair. They discover their inheritance, the gold hidden there years before by Sabe and Po’Boy.
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