If You Come Softly

If You Come Softly

By Jacqueline Woodson
Young adult
Puffin, 1998
ISBN: 0698118626/ ISBN: 978-0698118621
Awards/Recognitions: * ALA Best Books for Young Adults * Detroit Public Library Author’s Day Award

An Audre Lorde poem inspired this 1998 love story by Jacqueline Woodson. Lorde’s poem begins:

If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees

Woodson published If You Come Softly fifteen years ago, yet every page reads like a contemporary love stoy. It’s told from the alternating perspectives of Ellie and Miah, who are both fifteen, both upper middle class, both students at a mostly white private New York City high school. Only Ellie is white and Miah is black. While Ellie and Miah live in the same city and attend the same school, their cultural and familial life-experiences are completely different.

The young couple’s willingness to enter into and explore these differences leads them to fall in love and to stand up on behalf of their love when society and even their families try to put them down. If You Come Softly is not a true-love-is-blind story but a true-love-is-pliable-and-open story.

If You Come Softly overflows with that tingly first-love magic. Sweaty palms, stolen kisses, long late night calls, dreamy hours of wondering when. We all know that to love anyone or anything is to offer up your heart for the breaking. The Lorde poem reminds us that the deepest possible connection with another being will include suffering, for such intimacy allows us to “see what sorrow sees”. Within Woodson’s title, even, we know that sooner or later Ellie and Miah and their families will also see what sorrow sees.

Fortunately for her readers, when Jacqueline Woodson breaks your heart, she does so to make it more like Ellie and Miah’s love: pliable, ready, and able to receive all the goodness of the world in whatever shape, form, or color it’s offered. GA

Read the Girls of Summer interview with Jacqueline Woodson here.

Visit Jacqueline Woodson’s website: http://jacquelinewoodson.com/

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