Jacqueline Woodson's third adult novel explores the role of history and community in shaping the lives of family. It is a stunner and heartbreaker, starting with the title, Red at the Bone. Imagine the point at which the human body is at its most raw and hurt state. That's what red at the bone is described as by one of the main characters, Iris, like there is something inside of her undone and bleeding. Told in multiple voices starting in 2001 with sixteen-year-old Melody's coming of age ceremony in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone, the novel jumps forward and backward surrounding Melody's mother Iris and the coming of age ceremony she missed sixteen years earlier because she was unexpectedly pregnant with Melody. Iris does not want to be a parent and by 2001, it's apparent that her relationship with Melody is a periphery one.
The story follows Iris, Melody's father Aubrey, and their families as they settle to and from Brooklyn and grapple with independence, social class and expectations, racism, homophobia, and a variety of catastrophic events. Not everyone has the same capacity for love or desire for family and the choices we make when we are too young to know what they really mean may result in consequences that ripple through the generations.