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Jacqueline Woodson’s ‘Red at the Bone’ unpacks the trauma of youth development

(Image source: Instagram / @jacqueline_woodson)

Though popularly known for middle grade and young adult literature, Jacqueline Woodson proves time and time again that she can also write compelling work for older audiences. Woodson’s Red at the Bone, released in September of 2019, records the journey of 16-year-old Melody’s family back three generations. The story’s narrative shows the complex ways in which the decisions of children and young adults are long-lasting, the consequences, both positive and negative, of children existing in an adult world.

Woodson uses Melody’s family as a lens to examine broader social issues, sexuality, race and class. She traces the way these conversations develop over time, which leads to Melody’s sixteenth birthday in 2001.

Though the novel itself is categorized as adult literature, Woodson’s background as a children’s author allows her to access the consciousness and motivations of children and young adults, collapsing the boundaries between the young adult and adult genres.

Fellow children’s book author Nic Stone wrote in a review with the Washington Post that Woodson’s novel “was the first explicitly teen-centered book written by a fellow Black woman to crawl down inside me, grab hold of my heart and squeeze.”

Ultimately, it is Woodson’s skill in creating such a heart-wrenching narrative that makes the novel a must-read.