Woodson, Jacqueline. 1998. If You Come Softly. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0399231129
B. Plot Summary
Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah and Ellie meet at their exclusive, private high school in New York and all in love. they must convince the rest of the world that their love is real despite the differences: Jeremiah is black, Ellie is white.
C. Critical Analysis
If You Come Softly is a modern novel in that it is set in the late 1990s New York. High rise apartment, subways, Central Park, private schools are mentioned, along with the stereotypical love of basketball for young black men. Jeremiah even mentions this when thinking about playing for his new, exclusive private school, "It seemed wrong- cliche' somehow...He hated that he was gonna be playing ball for Percy Academy. No, it wasn't the game he hated, he loved that, had always loved that..."
While Woodson gives nods to cultural authenticity by describing Jeremiah's "locks" and skin color of his friends had him, "Some light-skinned, some dark-skinned..." and hair, "...nappy-headed, curly-headed, even a couple of bald-headed brothers...", but most of the novel's authenticity comes from characters' attitudes, actions, and inner voices. Jeremiah comments that in "...Fort Greene, Brooklyn- where everyone seemed to be some shade of black- he felt good walking through the neighborhood. But one step outside. Just one step and somehow the weight of his skin seemed to change. It got heavier."
The discussion when Ellie tells her sister about Jeremiah shows family values when Anne says, "I just think to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend from a different race is really hard."
Jacqueline Woodson offers opportunities for discussion with her novel. Most teens will find many instances to relate to when they read If You Come Softly.
D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -Two 15 year olds, Jeremiah (Miah) who is black, and Elisha (Ellie) who is white, meet during their first year at an exclusive New York prep school and fall in love. Both teens are also dealing with difficult family situations. Miah's father has left his mother for another woman, and Ellie is trying to fight through her feelings about her mother, who twice abandoned her family for extended periods. The teenagers must also deal with the subtle and not-so-subtle bigotry that they are subject to as a mixed-race couple. Miah and Ellie go about working through their problems, both individually and together, and their relationship continues to blossom, giving readers a shared sense of contentment. Thus, the tragic climax will leave them stunned. Woodson's lyrical narrative tells the story through alternating voices, Ellie's in the first person and Miah's in the third. This fine author once again shows her gift for penning a novel that will ring true with young adults as it makes subtle comments on social situations.Tom S. Hurlburt, La Crosse Public Library, WI
Older teens may discuss the pros and cons of interracial dating.
Other books to research:
Jayd's Legacy by L. Devine ISBN 9780758216373
Lives of Our Own by Lorrie Hewett ISBN 9780525459590