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If You Come Softly

If You Come Softly

4.6 122
by Jacqueline Woodson

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A heartbreaking contemporary romance from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he's in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he's going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don't exactly fit in there. So it's a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school


A heartbreaking contemporary romance from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he's in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he's going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don't exactly fit in there. So it's a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock and after that they know they fit together -- even though she's Jewish and he's black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that's not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way. Reviewers have called Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson's work "exceptional" (Publishers Weekly) and "wrenchingly honest" (School Library Journal), and have said "it offers a perspective on racism and elitism rarely found in fiction for this age group" (Publishers Weekly). In If You Come Softly, she delivers a powerful story of interracial love that leaves readers wondering "why" and "if only...."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Once again, Woodson (I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This) handles delicate, even explosive subject matter with exceptional clarity, surety and depth. In this contemporary story about an interracial romance, she seems to slip effortlessly into the skins of both her main characters, Ellie, an upper-middle-class white girl who has just transferred to Percy, an elite New York City prep school, and Jeremiah, one of her few African American classmates, whose parents (a movie producer and a famous writer) have just separated. A prologue intimates heartbreak to come; thereafter, sequences alternate between Ellie's first-person narration and a third-person telling that focuses on Jeremiah. Both voices convincingly describe the couple's love-at-first-sight meeting and the gradual building of their trust. The intensity of their emotions will make hearts flutter, then ache as evidence mounts that Ellie's and Jeremiah's "perfect" love exists in a deeply flawed society. Even as Woodson's lyrical prose draws the audience into the tenderness of young love, her perceptive comments about race and racism will strike a chord with black readers and open the eyes of white readers ("Thing about white people," Jeremiah's father tells him, "they know what everybody else is, but they don't know they're white"). Knowing from the beginning that tragedy lies just around the corner doesn't soften the sharp impact of this wrenching book. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Alison Kastner
For Ellie and Jeremiah it is love at first sight in this understated love story. Though the couple comes from different backgrounds, both have strange home lives. After his parents' divorce, Jeremiah's dad moved across the street and Jeremiah now spends his time going between his mother's and father's apartments. Ellie lives in a very large apartment with her mother and father, and they all seem to inhabit separate corners of a space that once housed a large family. Ellie's relationship with her mother, who has left the family twice, is strained. Estranged from both their families, Ellie and Jeremiah become the perfect couple, providing the security and love that they feel is lacking at home. Of course there is a complication: Ellie is white and Jeremiah is black. Ellie thinks that racism is a thing of the past, until she is heartbroken to discover that her favorite sister is racist. The couple is also surprised when they face hostility from perfect strangers, but they persevere and their relationship blossoms. This sweet story is filled with a sense of foreboding. In fact, Jeremiah is shot by a police officer who mistakes him for a crime suspect. In truth, Jeremiah is shot because he is an African American who is running (dribbling his basketball) after dark. While such incidents are all too common, this reader found herself wishing that Woodson had ended on a more optimistic note-the "happily-ever-after" ending is not always the predictable one-and wanted to know if Jeremiah and Ellie could have endured in the face of so much opposition. One positive note: Ellie forms a relationship with Jeremiah's mother and together they mourn their loss. The gentle and melancholy tone of this book makes it ideal for thoughtful readers and fans of romance. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
To quote KLIATT's Jan. 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Woodson, author of the acclaimed From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun and other YA novels, once again tackles issues of bigotry and family in this poignant story about a tragic romance. Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah (called Miah) lives in a comfortable black neighborhood in Brooklyn, alternating between the homes of his separated parents and disturbed about their upcoming divorce. His father is a famous filmmaker and his mother is a renowned novelist, and Miah's father has convinced him that attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan would be a good idea. There Miah meets Ellie, a white, Jewish girl who's also new to the school. Ellie comes from a privileged background too, but her mother has abandoned the family twice and Ellie, the baby of the family and the only one left at home, doesn't trust her to stick around. Miah and Ellie fall deeply in love, and then must cope with the often-negative reactions of others to their interracial relationship, culminating in a terrible accident in Central Park. The title, from a poem by Audre Lorde, invites readers to see the world from Miah's and Ellie's eyes, as they tell their stories in alternating chapters and share their wonder and joy at first love and their conflicted feelings toward their families. Woodson succeeds in letting us into their hearts, and the story is gracefully told. An ALA Best Book for YAs and a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1998, Penguin/Puffin, 184p, 18cm, 97-32212, $4.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
The ALAN Review - Diana Mitchell
15-year-old Jeremiah usually deals with the constant pressure of choosing which of his separated parents to spend time with by losing himself in basketball. But this year is different. His father insists on sending him to a private school so Jeremiah has to deal with being one of only a handful of black students there and one of a few black players on the team. Then he meets Ellie, a Jewish girl at his school. They lock eyes and feel an instant affinity for each other. Told in alternating chapters by Ellie and Jeremiah, this is a gently told story of two teens in a biracial relationship and what happens to them and their families because of the assumptions made about black males in our society. The language is so beautiful and the attention to detail so focused that I felt I had been dropped into their lives and knew them and their families. The tragic ending makes a very strong statement about what its like to be a black male in America and what can happen when stereotypes are the basis for behavior towards others. The powerful message is haunting and I find myself turning the events of the book over and over again in my mind.
Kirkus Reviews
In a meditative interracial love story with a wrenching climactic twist, Woodson (The House You Pass on the Way, 1997, etc.) offers an appealing pair of teenagers and plenty of intellectual grist, before ending her story with a senseless act of violence. Jeremiah and Elisha bond from the moment they collide in the hall of their Manhattan prep school: He's the only child of celebrity parents; she's the youngest by ten years in a large family. Not only sharply sensitive to the reactions of those around them, Ellie and Miah also discover depths and complexities in their own intense feelings that connect clearly to their experiences, their social environment, and their own characters. In quiet conversations and encounters, Woodson perceptively explores varieties of love, trust, and friendship, as she develops well-articulated histories for both families. Suddenly Miah, forgetting his father's warning never to be seen running in a white neighborhood, exuberantly dashes into a park and is shot down by police. The parting thought that, willy-nilly, time moves on will be a colder comfort for stunned readers than it evidently is for Ellie. Miah's melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson's previous books. (Fiction. 11-13)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
HL570L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

I couldn’t stop looking at him, at his smile and his hair. I had never seen locks up close. His were thick and black and spiraling down over his shoulders. I wanted to touch them, to touch his face. I wanted to hear him say his name again. For a moment we stared at each other, neither of us saying anything. There was something familiar about him, something I had seen before. I blinked, embarrassed suddenly, and turned away from him.

Then Jeremiah rose and I rose.

“Well . . . good-bye. I guess . . . I guess I’ll see you around,” he said softly, looking at me a moment longer before turning away and heading down the hall, his locks bouncing gently against his shoulders.

“Jeremiah,” I whispered to myself as I walked away from him. I could feel his name, settling around me, as though I was walking in a mist of it, of him, of Jeremiah.


After Tupac and D Foster

Behind You

Beneath a Meth Moon

Between Madison and Palmetto

Brown Girl Dreaming

The Dear One


From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

The House You Pass on the Way


I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This

Last Summer with Maizon



Maizon at Blue Hill

Miracle’s Boys

Peace, Locomotion

Table of Contents

At first sight

Also by Jacqueline Woodson

Title Page


Copyright Page


Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6


Part Two

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26


Questions for Discussion

An Excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming

An Excerpt from Behind You

The tide and the poem “If You Come Softly” by Audre Lorde are from
The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde published by W. W. Norton and reprinted by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam’s Sons,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1998
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2003
Reissued by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2006


Copyright © Jacqueline Woodson, 1998

All rights reserved

Woodson, Jacqueline.
If you come softly / Jacqueline Woodson.
p. cm.
Summary: After meeting at their private school in New York,
fifteen-year-old Jeremiah, who is black and whose parents are separated,
and Ellie, who is white and whose mother has twice abandoned her,
fall in love and then try to cope with people’s reactions.

ISBN: 9781101076972


For the ones like Jeremiah

If you come as softly
as the wind within the trees
You may hear what I hear
See what sorrow sees.

MY MOTHER CALLS TO ME FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE stairs, and I pull myself slowly from a deep sleep. It is June. Outside the sky is bright blue and clear. In the distance I can see Central Park, the trees brilliant green against the sky. I was dreaming of Miah.

“Elisha,” Marion calls again. She sounds worried and I know she is standing at the bottom of the stairs, her hand moving slowly up and down the banister, waiting for me to answer. But I can’t answer yet. Not now.

Is there a boy? Marion asked me that fall, when Miah was new. And I lied and told her there wasn’t one.

She is standing at the door now, her arms folded in front of her. “Time to get up, sweetie. Are you all right?”

I nod and continue to stare out the window, my hair falling down around my eyes, my pajamas hot and sticky against my skin.

No, Marion, there isn’t a boy. Not now. Not anymore.

She comes to the bed and sits beside me. I feel the bed sink down with the weight of her, smell her perfume.

“I dreamed about Miah last night,” I say softly, leaning my head against her shoulder. Outside, there are taxicabs blowing their horns. In the seconds of quiet between the noise, I can hear birds. And my own breathing.

Marion moves her hand over my head. Slowly. Softly. “Was it a good dream?”

I frown. “Yes ... I think so. But I don’t remember it all.”

“Remember what you can, Elisha,” Marion whispers, kissing me on the forehead. “Remember what you can.”

I close my eyes again.

And remember what I can.

Part One

The Ending


YOU DO NOT DIE. YOUR SOUL STEPS OUT OF YOUR BODY, shakes itself hard because it’s been carrying the weight of your heavy skin for fifteen years. Then your soul lifts up and looks down on your body lying there—looks down on the blood running onto concrete, your eyes snapped open like the pages in some kid’s forgotten picture book, your chest not moving. Your soul sees this and feels something beyond sadness—feels its whole self whispering further away. Shhhh. Shhhh. Shhhh—past the trees in Central Park, past the statues and runners and children playing on swings. Shhhh. Shhhh. Shhhh. Over yellow taxicabs and late-afternoon flickering streetlights. Shhhh away from the dusting of snow, the white tips of trees, the darkening sky. Already you hear your mother screaming. Already you see your father dropping his head into his hands. Helpless. Already you see your friends—walking through the halls of Percy Academy. Stunned. But you do not die. Each breath your soul takes is cool and reminds you of a taste you loved a long time ago. Licorice. Peppermint. Rain. Then your soul is you all over again, only lighter and freer and able to be a thousand and one places at once. Your new soul eyes look around. See two cops standing there with their mouths hanging open. One cop curses and kicks a tree. Slowly your soul realizes it’s in a park. There are trees all around you. And both cops look scared.

He’s dead, one cop says.

And the other curses again. Your soul doesn’t like the way the curse word sounds. Too hard. Too heavy in the new soul-light air.

The cops can’t see you. They see a dead body on the ground—a young boy. A black boy. They know this is not the man they’d been looking for. They know they’ve made a mistake. Your soul looks at the boy and knows his friends called him Miah but his full name was Jeremiah Roselind. Tall. Dark. He has locks and the locks are spread over the ground. His eyes are opened wide. Greenish gray lifeless eyes. Your soul thinks—somebody loved that boy once. Thinks—once that boy was me. The wind blows the snow left, right and up. You are so light, you move with the wind and the snow. Let the weather take you. And it lifts you up—over a world of sadness and anger and fear. Over a world of first kisses and hands touching and someone you’re falling in love with. She’s there now. Right there. Look closely. Yeah. That’s her. That’s my Ellie.

The Hurting


FOR A LONG TIME AFTER MIAH DIED, SO MANY PEOPLE DIDN’T sleep. At night, we lay in bed with our eyes wide open and watched the way night settled down over wherever we were. I was in a room on the Upper West Side, in a house my parents moved to a long time ago. Not a house—a duplex apartment in a fancy building with a doorman. My dad’s a doctor. My mother stays at home. I go to Percy Academy. Some people look at me and see a white girl in a uniform—burgundy jacket and gray skirt—and think, She has all the privilege in the world. I look back at them, thinking, If only you knew.

If only they knew how we were sprinkled all over the city—me in my big room, Nelia in her Fort Greene brownstone, Norman in his girlfriend’s apartment, aunts and uncles and cousins, even strangers—all over New York City—none of us slept. We lay there staring up at our ceilings or out into the darkness. Or some days we stopped in the middle of doing something and forgot what it was we were doing. We thought, Jeremiah’s dead. We whispered, Jeremiah’s dead. As if the whispering and the thinking could help us to understand. We didn’t eat enough. We peed only when the need to pee got so big, we thought we’d wet our pants. We pulled the covers off ourselves in the mornings then sat on the edge of our beds, not knowing what to do next. If those strangers looked, really looked into my privileged white girl face, they would have seen the place where I wasn’t even there. Where a part of me died too.

Miah died on a Saturday afternoon. That evening, the calls started coming. First his mom, Nelia, asking if Miah was still with me. Then his dad, Norman. Then the cops. Then silence. Silence that lasted into the night and into the next dawn. Then the phone ringing one more time and Nelia saying, Ellie, Miah’s been shot. . . .


I don’t remember much more than that. There was a funeral. There were tears. There were days and days spent in my bed. A fever maybe.

There was no more Miah.

No more Miah.

No more Miah and me.

Chapter 3

HE LOVED THE LIGHT IN HIS MAMA’S KITCHEN. THE yellow stained-glass panes across the top of the windows buttered the room a soft gold-even now, in the early evening with the rain coming down hard outside.

“Your daddy left a message,” his mama said. “Said he had to go out to L.A. Be back Sunday night. Left a number.”

“Guess I’m spending the week here then.” Jeremiah glanced out the kitchen window. There was no light on in his father’s apartment. He was glad he didn’t have to make a decision. Every night it was the same thing. You gonna stay here? You gonna stay here? His mama and daddy’s voices beating against the side of his head, begging him as if they were really saying, Choose me. No, choose me. For the hundredth time, no, maybe the thousandth time, he wished he had a brother or sister—somebody to go up against them with. Someone to help relieve some of the stuff they put him through. How long would it have to be like this anyway? Two addresses. Two phone numbers. Two bedrooms.

Meet the Author

Born on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She now writes full-time and has recently received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Her other awards include a Newbery Honor, two Coretta Scott King awards, two National Book Award finalists, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Although she spends most of her time writing, Woodson also enjoys reading the works of emerging writers and encouraging young people to write, spending time with her friends and her family, and sewing. Jacqueline Woodson currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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If You Come Softly 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book. It really touched me. I strongly recommend this book to any young readers in search of a fantastic read. As a 12-year-old, I cam say this is one of my personal favorites
Guest More than 1 year ago
If You Come Softly in my opinion is the best book I have ever read. It explains a 'true love' and is written beautifully. My friends and I gave it ' 8 thumbs up.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book so much. Its is a quick read and worth every second. My copy is ripping apart I have read it so many times. A great book about love and loss. Amazing writing, amazing plot line, an amazing book.
KLBCHOICES More than 1 year ago
Jeremiah Roselind is an intelligent black teenage boy who has to attend a fancy prep school. He bumps into Ellie Eisen, a white girl, in the hallway, and they are immediately attracted to one another. Disapproving glances, whispering voices, snide remarks -it isn't the reactions from other people that tear this young couple apart before their relationship has a real chance to grow, but a tragic event. This is an interesting, well-written story about interracial dating. I was saddened by the ending.
thegirlintheglasses More than 1 year ago
The book If You Come Softly really touched me. I was bawling like a baby when I finished this book. Thinking about the innocence that was so alive throughout the description of Ellie and Miah's romance gives me the chills. It was an amazing read that really stuck a cord in me, because it was just two people that were in love and the serious things about their romance weren't overpowering and unrealistic but perfectly put in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I may only be 11, but this is, hands down, the best book I have ever read. Jaqueline Woodson made me cry in this wonderful, captivating story of interracial young love. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rank this book 85.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is probably my favorite book and as an avid reader that's saying a lot. This was such a sad book for a couple of reasons. One being the ridicule miah and ellie receive from people because they aren't the same race. The end of the book absolutely breaks my heart. It was also very well written. Go percy sledge!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book more than 10 years ago when I was a preteen. I loved it! I have lost track of how many times I have read it over the years. I for sure recommend this to young girls!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you come softly is a wonderful book which is written by Jacqueline Woodson. This book is about an African American whose name is Jeremiah, who used to go to a public school somewhere in Brooklyn. He is pretty courageous and satisfied about how he is doing so well in basketball. His father is an African American filmmaker, who makes Jeremiah attend a professional private school, which is an All-White School for wealthy kids. His mother is a unique novelist writer. Ellie, who also attends the private school named Percy, is a Strong and is very less trustful to her mother. Her mother had left her and the rest of her family to go to "explore" and also says that she needs to be by herself. Ellie is a little heartbroken who learns to let go of that situation. They both have some sort of problem in their family. Ellie and Jeremiah bump into each other in the Percy Hallway and both of their eyes meet at the same time. They fall in love, instantly. They think that they are both almost close to perfect together. Even though Jeremiah is black and Ellie is white, they don't let that effect their relationship. They don't care what people think and that's what I absolutely like about it. The bad thing is there is a tragic event that happens.
Anonymous 13 days ago
It was one of my favorite books, when Jeremaih died i was heartbroken but over all good book and has alot of emotions
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So touching
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was well written but kinda sad. Worth the money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the first book I read for summer reading, and I am in love with it. The story itself was so different and inspiring, I couldn't stop reading it. The ending was so sad too... the book is so well written. I definitely reccomend reading this book, especially to teen and preteen girls like me :) definitely read it! It's worth the money.
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Megan Arriola More than 1 year ago
the story was short but it was a good book.
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