By Jacqueline Woodson
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/
By Julia Alvarez
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2002
ISBN: 0375815449 / 978-0375815447
Also available in paperback and audio
Awards/recognitions: * ALA Best Books for Young Adults * ALA Notable Book; Miami Herald Book of the Year * Winner of the Amércias Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature * Winner of the Pura Bupré Award
Julia Alvarez is a titan in the world of Latino literature, so it isn’t surprising that a decade past its publication, her first YA novel, Before We Were Free, is still one of my favorites to recommend for middle school readers. The novel is historical fiction, but it’s not based on American history. Instead, it’s set in the Dominican Republic during the early 1960s as the brutal 30-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo was unraveling.
Rafael who? Yes, that’s exactly the problem. This bloody history happened right in our global neighborhood, but ask your average middle school kid about it and you’ll get a blank stare. So, for girls who like world history, a little bloodshed, espionage, and murder plots, this is a terrific pick.
The country is in upheaval, and the secret police are investigating anyone who is suspected of betraying “el jefe” Trujillo. Anita de la Torre’s uncle has already disappeared, and her beloved cousins are fleeing to the United States, plucked from school one day and told to take one thing they cherish. Anita stays behind with her parents, only vaguely aware of her father’s involvement in the plot against the president.
The book touches on the tragedy of those caught in political upheavals the world over. Family separations, secrets kept from children for the sake of safety, and of course, the gut-wrenching decisions people have to make about morality, ideals, torture, and murder. But what is on full display here – and what strong girls will respond to — is the cost to young people: their voice and their innocence. MM
Learn more about Julia Alvarez.
By Angela Johnson
Dial Books, 2004
Awards/recognitions: * Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award Nominee * ALA Notable Book * ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Angela Johnson writes the South, writes summer, and writes family like nobody’s business. Her middle-grade novel, Bird, stands as a testament to the very best qualities of the American South – forgiveness, acceptance, and triumph over suffering.
The main character, thirteen year old Bird, knows what she wants – a whole, complete family. She spends her summer in pursuit of her step-father, who has left Bird and her mother in Cleveland. Bird runs far away to Acorn, Alabama in the hopes of finding the only man she’s ever known as father, sure she can convince him to return. But, living in an old shed and snitching leftover pancakes with strawberry syrup while the farm family attends church can’t go on forever. While hiding out, Bird sees people in Acorn who think they’re invisible, yet some Acorn folks also see Bird and resolve to help her.
Johnson tells the story from the perspectives of Bird as well as Ethan and Jay, two Acorn-boys who befriend Bird and in doing so find an easier way of facing their own grief over personal losses. Readers will linger with Bird in a pond so big it ought to be called a lake, so true it summons the children in the story to explore its depth and their own. Readers will also hold their breaths while joy-riding in an old lady’s pickup truck that stirs up a fine red dust from the red dirt road, a dust so fine it settles like baby powder on a girl’s skin and hair. And readers will nod their heads in agreement with Bird’s insights, “In the summer, you can be somebody’s cousin from Michigan or be waiting for your parents who just went into the Fast & Sure Mart for some paper plates or something. You can be almost anybody in the summer.” GA
Learn more about author Angela Johnson.