I’m increasingly enamoured by books from multiple perspectives. Of course, there is something immensely powerful about narratives where you feel like you’ve furrowed into the inner-workings of a character. But man oh man, there’s something about that feeling of completely buying into one side of a story, only to have that blown out the water in the next chapter once you get a bit more context.
The story follows an intergenerational family. At first, a happy, African-American, nuclear, middle-class, church-going three: Sabe and Po’Boy, and their daughter Iris. But at just 15, this all changes when Iris tells her parents she is pregnant – and that she’s keeping the baby. Her boyfriend, Aubrey, raised by a single mother on love and food tokens, slips into the paternal role very naturally. Through each character, their pasts, presents and futures, we see their lives unfurl, intertwined.
This is where multiple perspectives become one of Jacqueline Woodson’s great assets. You never feel – or rather, are never allowed to feel – set in one opinion of a character. Jumping from fury with Iris for leaving Aubrey to raise Melody while she goes to college, to a heart-wrenching empathy for a young girl forced to make that sort of decision. From admiration for Aubrey and his sacrifices, to a sort of pitying curiosity as to whether he lacks ambition. Not to mention the constant awareness of the fact that if the roles were reversed, society would never be as harsh on Aubrey as they are on Iris.
It’s like walking a tight rope that you can’t fall from – but having to walk it anyway. By the end, refreshingly, you are still not inclined to take sides but rather just feel a sadness for every character, their struggles, their choices, and the choices that were made for them. Red At The Bone is a profoundly simple reminder that life is too complex to ever make outright judgments, and a call for compassion.
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