The Weight of Blood
By: Tiffany D. Jackson
Published: September 6, 2022
Genre: Horror, Young Adult, Retelling
…“the Bloody Prom,” when a girl named Madison Abigail Washington nearly burned down her entire town, killing two hundred people, including the majority of her senior class, at their first racially integrated prom, (Two).
Identity is one of the universal themes found in all narratives ubiquitously. Protagonists, antagonists, villains, and other characters have traits and personalities that shape their identities, which in turn make them rounded characters. In addition, identity is a trait explored by any and all characters (and people) as they search their past, their present, and their families for answers to “who they are.” This theme is portrayed often in Young Adult Literature, and for good reason. Adolescents are caught between puberty and upcoming milestones, which leads them to continue questioning their identities as they approach adulthood. Similar to other narratives, there are moments when adolescents are able to embrace their “newfound” identities; then, there are those who stumble upon the truth and are left questioning everything they thought they knew about themselves. The Weight of Blood is Tiffany D. Jackson’s latest novel. And yes, it is a “retelling” of Stephen King’s Carrie. However, before you make the rash decision to NOT read this book, remember there are some retellings that are as undying as the “original” variant.
The protagonist in this novel is Madison—a.k.a. Maddy—Abigail Washington. She is 17 years-old and is the Outcast at Springville High School. The main reason for this is due to her “upbringing.” Maddy and her father—Thomas Washington—are the neighborhood outcasts. In fact, Maddy’s father “homeschooled” her until she was around 12 years-old. While it is obvious Maddy and her father kept to themselves, what wasn’t known is Maddy was biracial with an unknown mother, in a Southern United States “town where racism was passed down like family jewels.” It was imperative for Maddy to keep to herself so that “no one would ever find out.” Except, everyone did find out and everyone learned her “secret”—Maddy is Black and has been “passing” for White her entire life. Due to a brief yet unexpected rainstorm, Maddy’s hair reveals her “heritage,” along with something else. Then, during her next class—ironically, U.S. History—all of Maddy’s classmates see her hair and “figure out” she is Black. In the midst of all of the teasing and the name calling, suddenly every desk and chair lifts into the air before crashing back down to the floor which causes the windows to crack and the lights to burst. If that wasn’t enough, then Maddy has to face her father’s wrath because she “wasn’t more careful” about her hair. Maddy’s father does punish Maddy for her “carelessness” at school, before he restraightens her hair with a hot comb. As traumatizing as Maddy’s “exposure” is for her, she does become curious as to whether or not she was responsible for the “earthquake” at school. This is the beginning of Maddy coming into her own as an individual. Unfortunately, Maddy is still in high school. While she is able to learn more about herself and her identity, Maddy is a minor living with her racist and misogynist father in a racist town. Maddy has been forced to keep her emotions to herself her entire life, and she’s reached her breaking point. Bottled up emotions always erupt.
There are several main characters whose roles in this narrative are the agents whose actions cause “the Bloody Prom.” First, is Maddy’s father, Thomas Washington. He is a White heterosexual male who is “stuck” and “fascinated” by the 1950s. Anyone who is familiar with 1950s American society knows that the family dynamic is NOT ideal for a female child, especially one who is a minority. After their “secret” is “exposed,” Thomas Washington tries to regain dominance over his daughter but fails over and over again. On the one hand, Maddy is an adolescent on the brink of adulthood (she’s almost 18); on the other hand, Maddy is unable to ask her father about her mother and to talk about her “other secret.”
Next, are the “mean girls”: Jules Marshall and Wendy Quinn. Jules Marshall is Captain of the Varsity Cheerleaders and is the daughter of a wealthy Southern family with strong familial roots. Wendy Quinn is Jules’ best friend. Unlike Jules, Wendy comes from a poor Southern family; and, she is a hardworking student. And yet, Wendy craves the lifestyle Jules and the other girls in their friend group have, and she has been “working” her way towards obtaining it. One could argue that Wendy’s goal for escaping poverty is understandable, but her way of going about it in order to get what she wants presents her as self-centered as Jules.
Next, is Kendrick, “Kenny,” Scott. He is Springville High School’s Star Quarterback, and boyfriend to Wendy. He is an All-American Football Player who has secured a full athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama. He is what all of the parents in Springville want for their sons, especially Kenny’s own parents. Meanwhile, Kenny is frustrated with himself because he feels he was never allowed to be himself among everyone else. As a strong, athletic, Black male, he believes he was “pushed” into becoming an athlete. And, as a Black male, he was taught—by his father and the residents in Springville—how not to express himself completely so that he won’t be “labeled” as an “angry, Black male.” At the same time, his sister, Kali, is a member of the school’s Black Student Union, but she doesn’t know whether or not she is angry at Maddy for “hiding her heritage.”
Last, is Mrs. Morgan, the history teacher whose class experienced the “earthquake.” She comes to Maddy’s defense over and over again, and she attempts to point out the negative impact Springville’s racist practices continue to have both on the town and on Maddy. Unfortunately, Mrs. Morgan is fighting a losing battle. All of the characters have interacted with Maddy with intentions that either were genuine or malicious—some more obvious than others. Yet, no one (from the outside looking in) can deny Maddy was a victim and all of the efforts to “include” her came WAY TOO LATE.
Yes, the plot for this book is based on Carrie by Stephen King. However, as you read this book you will realize that only the plot (or, even the Freytag (Plot) Pyramid) is the only thing in common with both books. The main storyline is the crime podcast who is doing an episode about Maddy Washington and “the Bloody Prom.” The hosts interview any of the remaining survivors and/or any Springville residents who are willing to discuss “that night.” “Experts” of the “phenomenon” that happened on that Prom Night appear on the podcast to offer their “professional critique” of the event. They all attempt to piece together what happened to Maddy and everything that led to the massacre. The plot is the actual events that happened in the present alternating with the podcast in the future. The podcast offers speculation, and the main characters provide the actual—yet biased—moments in real-time. There are subplots in this novel, which enhance both plots in the narrative. The first subplot is the speculation and the truth surrounding Maddy Washington. The questions surrounding her identity, her “powers,” and her (lack of) social life are brought up over and over again, even by Maddy herself. The second subplot delves into history: how it is taught, how it is presented, and how it impacts modern society. The lack of knowing actual history is not only an aberration individuals would believe to be a “common practice” in the (Southern) U.S., but also a huge error by those who continue with that practice and those beliefs. The survivors of “the Springville Massacre” would blame the event on a divergent from tradition: separate proms. In fact, it can be argued that years of racial tension, skewed historical knowledge, and various levels of privilege are what led to the tragedy. Both subplots are essential for the plots of the narrative, and they offer explanations for the events that occur throughout the story.
The narrative in this book has a sequence which moves between real-time and moments of the PAST leading up to Prom Night, and the interviews and the news reports which occur AFTER the massacre. Yes, readers will get to read what happened DURING Prom Night, but honestly that moment confirms what witnesses and survivors experienced that night which does bring truth to all of the speculation in the AFTER passages. The protagonist and the main characters are the point-of-view characters in the BEFORE chapters. From the third person limited point-of-view of those characters, the audience sees each of them as they are, which puts to rest those who are the “innocent” individuals over the ones who are held “accountable” for their actions in the worse way. The streams-of-consciousness of all of the P.O.V. characters make them reliable narrators as well because the audience is able to determine who is responsible for the events leading up to the massacre, their reactions to key moments on Prom Night, and the permanent fallout of all of it. The sequence is familiar to those who have read stories with similar formats. The sequence moves from “speculation” to the “actual events” which allows for any questions to be answered immediately within the narrative. This narrative can be followed easily by the audience.
The style Tiffany D. Jackson uses for The Weight of Blood is more than a retelling of Carrie. In fact, I would describe this novel as having the plot from Stephen King’s Carrie with the “powers” from Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby with the micro-aggressive racism illustrated in Jerry Craft’s New Kid series with the much-needed commentary from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s (i.e. How to Be an Antiracist) antiracism books. Yes, that seems to be a weighed amount of books and connections, but if you’re familiar with ANY of the mentioned books, then this lengthy comparison should come across to you as accurate. This novel uses the horror genre in order to present how adolescents continue to deal with bullying and cyberbullying, racism, poverty, isolation, physical and emotional abuse, identity and heritage, labels and clichés, etc., all the social issues that continue to be influenced and ongoing by the adults. Not to mention, the children and the adolescents who benefitted from these social norms allow them to be passed on to the next generation. It should be mentioned that segregated proms still exist in some rural regions of the United States. Yes, there is the TV-Movie, For One Night (starring Raven-Symoné) from 2006, but the setting in that film is the 1970s. More news coverage has led to a slight decrease in segregated proms, but they still exist in our current society. The author presents her book as a (social) commentary of the consequences regarding racism, misogyny, and poverty. The mood in this novel is a combination of tension and deterioration. The tension is brought on by the societal norms and practices in Springville, and the deterioration of the town is brought about due to the consequences of those same societal norms. The tone in this novel is reckoning. Everyone has a breaking point. There are times when one should leave things alone, and there are times when payback is its own form of justice.
The appeal for this book has been positive. The author is one of the most popular Young Adult authors in the publishing industry! And yes, she wrote a horror novel. While this genre is not for everyone, I would argue that interested readers who are familiar either with Tiffany D. Jackson’s previous books or with Stephen King’s stories should give this book a chance because they will be impressed with how the author pays homage to the literal king of horror. And, there is a twist in this novel that I did NOT see coming! Once that twist is revealed, certain aspects within the story will begin to make sense (but, it does NOT excuse it). Please note this book contain elements of child abuse, bullying, racism, and misogyny. This book will trigger some readers; but, don’t let it be the reason you don’t read it. Besides fans of horror, fans of Sadie by Courtney Summers and Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed should read this book because of the similarities in the format of the narrative. This book belongs both in the horror and in the Young Adult literary canons because it falls under both genres. It should be said that as long as the issues mentioned within this novel continue to influence our society, it will have lasting appeal amongst readers. If Carrie has lasting appeal, then The Weight of Blood will as well.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson is a solid horror novel both adolescents and adults will enjoy. This novel is a retelling of a horror classic, but it is so much more to the point where this book does not need that weighed comparison. If you’re interested in a horror story about hidden lineages and combating bullying with a bloodbath towards the end, then this is the book for you!
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!