In Woodson, at the height of her powers, readers hear the blues: “beneath that joy, such a sadness.”

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RED AT THE BONE

Woodson sings a fresh song of Brooklyn, an aria to generations of an African American family.

National Book Award winner Woodson (Harbor Me, 2018, etc.) returns to her cherished Brooklyn, its “cardinals and flowers and bright-colored cars. Little girls with purple ribbons and old women with swollen ankles.” For her latest coming-of-age story, Woodson opens in the voice of Melody, waiting on the interior stairs of her grandparents’ brownstone. She’s 16, making her debut, a “ritual of marking class and time and transition.” She insists that the assembled musicians play Prince’s risqué “Darling Nikki” as she descends. Melody jabs at her mother, Iris, saying “It’s Prince. And it’s my ceremony and he’s a genius so why are we even still talking about it? You already nixed the words. Let me at least have the music.” Woodson famously nails the adolescent voice. But so, too, she burnishes all her characters’ perspectives. Iris’ sexual yearning for another girl at Oberlin College gives this novel its title: “She felt red at the bone—like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding.” By then, Iris had all but abandoned toddler Melody and the toddler’s father, Aubrey, in that ancestral brownstone to make her own way. In 21 lyrical chapters, readers hear from both of Iris’ parents, who met at Morehouse, and Aubrey’s mother, CathyMarie, who stretched the margarine and grape jelly sandwiches to see him grown. Woodson’s ear for music—whether Walt Whitman's or A Tribe Called Quest's—is exhilarating, as is her eye for detail. Aubrey and little Melody, holding hands, listen to an old man whose “bottom dentures were loose in his mouth, moving in small circles as he spoke.” The novel itself circles elegantly back to its beginning, Melody and Iris in 2001 for a brava finale, but not before braiding the 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the fires of 9/11. The thread is held by Iris’ mother, Sabe, who hangs on through her fatal illness “a little while longer. Until Melody and Iris can figure each other out.”

In Woodson, at the height of her powers, readers hear the blues: “beneath that joy, such a sadness.”

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53527-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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