Lynn Neary Shares A Year-End Favorite: 'Red At The Bone' By Jacqueline Woodson One of Lynn Neary's favorite books of 2019 was Jacqueline Woodson's multigenerational saga of two African American families. It takes the reader from the Tulsa Race Massacre to contemporary Brooklyn.

'Red At The Bone': 3 Generations, 2 Families, 1 Unforgettable Novel

'Red At The Bone': 3 Generations, 2 Families, 1 Unforgettable Novel

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One of Lynn Neary's favorite books of 2019 was Jacqueline Woodson's multigenerational saga of two African American families. It takes the reader from the Tulsa Race Massacre to contemporary Brooklyn.

NPR's Book Concierge offers 350+ new books handpicked by NPR staff and critics — including Lynn Neary. Click here to find your next great read. NPR hide caption

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NPR's Book Concierge offers 350+ new books handpicked by NPR staff and critics — including Lynn Neary. Click here to find your next great read.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, for seven years now, your friends here at NPR have been recommending books of the year just in time for the holidays. We call it the Book Concierge, and now you can not only browse through more than 300 titles from this year, but also check out the lists from years gone by. We asked NPR books and publishing correspondent Lynn Neary to tell us about one of her favorites from 2019.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: As Jacqueline Woodson's novel "Red At The Bone" begins, a young black girl named Melody is getting ready for her 16th birthday party. As she heads downstairs to the waiting guests, a band begins playing Prince's "Darling Nikki," minus the raunchy lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION'S "DARLING NIKKI")

NEARY: Melody is wearing the same dress her mother Iris was supposed to wear when she turned 16, but Iris never got the chance because, by that time, she was pregnant with Melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION'S "DARLING NIKKI")

NEARY: "Red At The Bone" is the story of two families brought together by this unexpected teenage pregnancy. Both families live in Brooklyn. Iris' family is wealthy. Her boyfriend Aubrey was raised by a single mom in less comfortable circumstances. In an interview with NPR, Woodson said she wanted to explore the idea of family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JACQUELINE WOODSON: What does it mean to be a family, you know? What does it mean to be a family that comes together suddenly through the birth of a child by two children?

NEARY: Iris decides to have the baby against her parents' wishes. But then she lets them, and Aubrey raise Melody while she goes to college and a different life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WOODSON: She realizes after the baby is born that, no, this is not the end for me. I want something more. And ends up going to Oberlin. But I wanted to push against that idea that there is only one way to be a mother.

NEARY: This multigenerational story goes back and forth in time, incorporating both the terror attacks of 9/11 and the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, which wiped out one of the country's most prosperous black communities and drove Iris' mother's family out of Oklahoma.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Reading) Those white men brought in their war planes and dropped bombs on my mama's neighborhood. God rest her soul, but if she was alive, she'd tell anyone listening the story. I must have heard it a hundred times by the time I was school age. I knew.

NEARY: "Red At The Bone" is a slim novel that has all the heft of a family saga. Jacqueline Woodson's writing is spare and beautiful and often reads like poetry. She begins her book with music and ends it on a perfect note.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION'S "DARLING NIKKI")

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