If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

If You Come Softly is a young adult/middle grade story about two teenagers, Ellie and Miah. They meet at Percy Academy, the private school that they are both unwillingly attending. They know that they have something special upon to meet each other, and they can remember each moment they sneak off together. Their first kiss. But time is fragile, and so is life. They realize how hard it will be: Miah is black, and Ellie is Jewish.

Carlton stood up and tucked the ball under his arm. “Sounds like love, man.”

“But she’s white.”

Carlton raised an eyebrow. “Hello, Miah. Look who you talking to, man. It happens. And you know what? It ain’t the worst thing in the world.”

It is a hard realization for both of them, as they take the bus or train and draw the stares of others, some asking Ellie if she is okay. My heart broke for them, because young love should not be tainted by hate or discrimination. There were very few people in their lives who seemed to understand. I really liked Miah’s best friend, Carlton. He was down to earth, and he seemed to understand– maybe because he was biracial, or maybe he just didn’t see people in color. He saw them as being the people they were.

Miah has this great support system in Carlton, and in his mother. But Ellie has been afraid to tell her family. She wants them to know the boy that she has fallen in love with, not the color of his skin. So, finally, she makes the decision that she will tell them. And she becomes excited. They will finally know Miah. But what happens next is astonishing– do they accept Miah? Forbid Ellie from seeing him? This was a re-read for me, and so I knew what was going to happen the second time around. Have a kleenex or two handy.

If you come as softly

as the wind beneath the trees.

You may hear what I hear.

See what sorrow sees.

If you come as lightly

as threading dew,

I will take you gladly,

not ask more of you.

I think that if I were able to assign reading to teens in classrooms, this would be one of those books. It is meaningful and relevant. If you had to choose at least one book that was mandatory reading for teens in schools, what would it be, and why? Maybe that will be a future post– I will put together what I would choose as required reading for the school year.

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