185: Jacqueline Woodson's RED AT THE BONE - July 2021 Unabridged Book Club
In this Unabridged Book Club discussion, we talk about Jacqueline Woodson's Red at the Bone. Spoiler alert: we all loved this powerful, tightly woven story. We pair this one with Randi Pink’s Angel of Greenwood, Tommy Orange’s There There, and Brit Bennett’s The Mothers.
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Jen said, "So, I am reading Leigh Bardugo’s Rule of Wolves. And I was trying to think about how to talk about this one because it is the second in the King of Scars duology, and it is also the third series that Bardugo is writing in this Grishaverse. So, spoilers abound. I think she is a great fantasy writer, and I think she really excels at building up connections. So, each of her three series focuses on a different group of characters, but they do interconnect. It's really interesting to see the way, as we look deeper at some of the characters who were in her earlier series, we understand them more. I just really love the Shadow and Bone adaptation that was recently released on Netflix, and I think it did a great job of revealing those rich characters as well. So, I can't talk a whole lot about the plot because it's going to spoil things from all of the series. But I will say, I really love the characters and the world that she has built. So, that is Leigh Bardugo’s Rule of Wolves."
Sara stated, "I am reading Joanne Tompkin’s What Comes After. My in-real-life book club started back up in May. We chose what comes after for our June read, and so that's what I'm reading. It is a story about two boys: one has been murdered and one has committed suicide, and it is this unraveling of a mystery around those deaths. It's totally from multi-perspectives. One perspective is is the father of the boy who is murdered. One is the perspective of this kind of mysterious girl that had met the boys two weeks prior to their deaths, and it's told from her perspective. Then one perspective is the boy who committed suicide. Basically it starts on the day of his death. He is kind of narrating some things that have happened and like flashing back because the two boys were best friends. So it is really compelling. It is written in a way that is really interesting. I think the author does some really interesting stuff with the narrative, and I'm really enjoying it. It's heavy because there's just a lot of grief that the characters are dealing with, but I'm really enjoying it and I'm very curious to see how it all culminates in the end. So, that is Joanne Tompkin’s What Comes After."
Ashley shared, "So this is one that I chose for—I'm a little bit behind on my reading challenge. So, for the Uncorked Reading Challenge that I'm doing this year, May was a book set in India, and I started it on May 31. So I felt like I had—I just had to have some grace with myself about the time and I was like, 'Well, I'm starting it on the last day of the month, which counts for something.' Then I've been listening to it. So, I've been kind of dipping in and out. But this is Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. I have wanted to read this forever. I really love her work, and some of it is set in America, but other parts are set in India. This is a series of short stories, and I think what I really love about Lahiri as a short story writer is that her work is so tightly woven, and really beautiful and very moving. So you have these—each story has a capsule view of these people's lives and the ways that the world around them is impacting them, and some of them are deeply personal. The opening story is a couple who live in America, and it is about the loss of a child at pregnancy and then kind of the aftermath of that for the couple. But, then the next story really looks at what it was like in America for families when the divide between India and Pakistan was happening. So they are in America, the family is there, and they have a family friend who is apart from his family who's still back in India. He comes with them all the time, and it's the perspective of a child who is watching her family come to understand what's happening in the news, and the way that those borders are being drawn and how that is reshaping the nationality of people. So it's just really fascinating. Again, I haven't read all of it yet, but I think what I love and why it's working well for me right now is that each story stands alone, but there are some threads that tie the stories together in a really lovely way. So again, that's Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. I've wanted to read it forever, and I'm really enjoying it."
Main Segment—Book Club Discussion for Jacqueline Woodson's Red at the Bone
First, Ashley, Jen, and Sara discussed their overall thoughts on the book.
Sara said, "So when I first started it, I felt a little unmoored because you kind of just start in the story, and you don't really know where you are what is happening. I listened to the first chapter, and I almost texted Ashley, and Jen and said, I'm not sure about this book. You know, I'm not sure about this at all. But, I trust Jacqueline Woodson so much as an author. So, I told myself that I needed to give it a chance. By the end, oh my gosh, I was just so moved by the way that she built, like Ashley said in the summary, this tapestry of this family and the way that the events that have impact their lives, the way that they were represented throughout the book, it was just so powerful. The way that she wove in these things that were not only impactful in the lives of these characters, but as for us, as human beings of the world, like, there were some things that I just, I was not anticipating. I just really loved the way that she showed each of these characters, and some of them are very complex, and you get angry, especially at Iris. I felt like I would get angry at Iris. But then also, I think Woodson does such a wonderful job of showing why Iris is the way she is, why she makes the choices that she does. You don't hate her, you just you get frustrated with her, but you also see that she is doing the very best that she can. She's struggling with a lot of things that she's unable to share with other people, and I just loved it. When I finished it, it just made me realize how much I trust Jacqueline Woodson as an author—the way that she can write across age groups. It's just phenomenal. So, I really, really loved it."
Jen stated, "So, I really loved it. I will say it's funny, because I had read this in 2019, so, I was trying to remember what my very first reading experience was like, and I just can't remember if it took me a while to get my footing or not because I did read it in print both times, which sometimes I think it's easier to feel like you have control of what you're reading. I don't know if that makes sense. But I really loved it both times. I will say different parts of it definitely resonated with me this time, which I know we're going to get to. But yeah, I just love that sense—just that sense of interconnectedness and the way there's this deep empathy for all of the characters. They are all flawed in some ways. They all make mistakes. Sometimes they're selfish, but we see the way they all connect and the way they all on some level love each other, and we really understand that by the end. The fact that she can do that in such a brief book is just really amazing. It seems like a much longer book when you think about what you know and understand about the characters, and yet, it is a slim little concise novel that just has that generational sense. It feels like one of those generational epics that I think we all love. Yet it's not even 300 pages. So yeah, again, Woodson—it's amazing to me when authors can balance beautiful writing on the sentence level, with just an amazing story and sense of character, and I will just continue singing Jacqueline Woodson's praises because she is a masterful writer. She is just brilliant. I absolutely loved it the second time through. In some ways I was moved maybe more, just because it's one of those books that rereading is a rewarding experience, because there are things that I noticed—little subtle touches that I hadn't picked up on the first time. So yeah, it was great."
Ashley shared, "I would echo a lot of that I absolutely found it rich and rewarding. I really loved the examination of motherhood and Iris's character who, like Sara said, we feel so frustrated with for some of the time and yet she paid this price for her having the child early on. She felt that her freedom had been taken from her. Yet, I think we also see how she has—there's such a tension between her desire to be connected to her family and be grounded and her desire to pursue her own life and her own pathway. I thought all of that was so well done. Like you said, Sara, I mean, some of it was that she felt that she was having these experiences that she couldn't share with anyone and that she didn't want to name and didn't want to acknowledge to others in a way that would have perhaps helped her feel more free. So I just thought all of that was really richly done."
Check out the episode for our full discussion!
Jen said, "I chose Tommy Orange's There There because I think there are so many connections to, well, firstly, both center on sort of a ceremony that is important—in There, There, it centers on a powwow and in this book, it's a coming-of-age ceremony. The scope there is different in the number of people involved, but I felt like both had something that was really important and symbolic to these families. I think both books cycle through different perspectives, so you're not limited to one person's point of view on what's happening. But the reason I ultimately chose There, There is because I think it also does such a great job at portraying the depth of generational trauma and of systemic racism, and of the way that things that happened long ago are still very much in our present and determining how we behave and the choices that we make. Both books are beautifully written. I think the more I thought about it, the more I've kept seeing all of these parallels between them. They're about different communities—There, There is about the Indigenous community in America, and obviously Jacqueline Woodson's book is about the Black community in America. But I think there are some threads there that are quite similar."
Sara stated, "So, my pairing is a book I read quite some time ago, but that I absolutely loved and it is Brit Bennett's The Mothers. The reason I chose this one is I feel like the format is very similar. There are alternating perspectives, and then there is this third person—or it's actually people in The Mothers—but there is a third person omniscient narrator kind of telling us some things that are happening in this community, similar to Red at the Bone. This also centers around a young women who is pregnant. Her name is Nadia. She gets pregnant by the local pastor's son. There's a cover up and that there are all of these secrets, but really what I thought about— how I applied it to Red at the Bone is it's this story of relationships, good relationships, bad relationships, people who are making choices that affect people that are not just them. It's an emotional story, and you come to really get frustrated with some of the characters, and you really love some of the characters. I just thought it was very similar in structure to Red at the Bone. I think is more narrative driven than Red at the Bone, but I think there are some similarities. So, that's why I chose Brit Bennett's The Mothers, and Brit Bennett is also an author whom I love. I trust her, just like Jacqueline Woodson, so I also thought that was another reason it was a good pairing for me."
Ashley shared, "I wanted to share one that I think is a good kind of one-off read for this one. So this is a young adult historical fiction novel I have shared about before—I talked about it in a Bookish Check-in, and I also have done a book review on it. So, I've talked about a little bit on the pod, but this is Randi Pink's Angel of Greenwood. So in some ways, this is very different. It is young adult, and it moves in a different way—it is more plot driven. But I think the reason that I wanted to connect it is because it explores very deeply the Greenwood massacre that took place in Tulsa. Randi Pink just does such a great job of creating and crafting these characters. Isaiah and Angel are the two main characters, and in a lot of ways, it is a love story. It's a romance of these two teenagers falling in love in Greenwood, in Tulsa, in the metropolitan, very successful Black community that's there at Greenwood and then going to school together, coming to know each other and falling in love, but that romance is set right before the massacre occurs. So, even though in a lot of ways, it is just two young people falling in love with each other, there is a feeling for the reader of this incident coming that the characters do not know. So, there's a lot of that ominous feeling, you're counting down in the book toward the incident occurring, and yet they don't know what's coming. But I think that what I really love about it—and what I do think also connects to Red at the Bone is that Randi Pink does nothing to shy away from the atrocity that occurred and how horrific it was in scale both on the individual level of loss and also the trauma for the community there in Greenwood and the larger Black community in America. She doesn't shy away from that at all, and yet it is a profoundly hopeful book. That's what I love about this one, too, just like that quote that you shared, Sara, about the coming of age ceremony for Melody and your quote, too, Jen, about how people can't even imagine what what we have to offer—that there's just this feeling in the book that both these characters, Isaiah and Angel, the way that each of them come to fruition and are so much more than they knew they could be because of this horrible thing that happened. That is really remarkable. Then also the way that the community comes together after the massacre and the way that they find their way forward is just infinitely hopeful. So that's why I loved it, and I think that's why it's a great fit. I cannot say enough about why I think that that is such an amazing book and also just such an important one, like Jen said about the Tulsa race riots that for so long our culture has worked to erase. So I think what I loved about that book is that it is very accessible for young people. It is great for the classroom—it would be a great one to teach, yet it also does both a great job of showing the historical moment, and how hopeful we can be about our pathway forward. And I think that's important for kids to have both parts of that. So again, that's Randi Pink’s Angel of Greenwood."
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