If You Come Softly

If You Come Softly

by Jacqueline Woodson

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A lyrical story of star-crossed love perfect for readers of The Hate U Give, by National Ambassador for Children’s Literature Jacqueline Woodson--now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, and including a new preface by the 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.
Jacqueline Woodson's work has been called “moving and resonant” (Wall Street Journal) and “gorgeous” (Vanity Fair). If You Come Softly is a powerful story of interracial love that leaves readers wondering "why" and "if only . . ."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101076972
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/22/2006
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 67,283
Lexile: HL570L (what's this?)
File size: 618 KB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About 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.

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.

Reading Group Guide


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, a Coretta Scott King award, 2 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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Why do you write for young adults?

I think it's an important age. My young adult years had the biggest impact on me of any period in my life and I remember so much about them. When I need to access the physical memories and/or emotional memories of that period in my life, it isn't such a struggle. And kids are great.

The issue of identity is central to the three books under discussion, yet each seems to approach this topic differently. Was this a deliberate choice on your part? What does each of these stories say about the teen characters and their struggles to define themselves?

Identity has always been an important and very relevant issue for me. For a lot of reasons, I've been 'assigned' many identities. From a very young age, I was being told what I was—black, female, slow, fast, a tomboy, stubborn—the list goes on and on. And this happens with many children as they are trying to become. So that by the time we're young adults, no wonder we're a mess!! There are so many ways we come to being who we are, so many ways in which we search for our true selves, so many varying circumstances around that search. No two people are alike but every young person is looking for definition. My journey as a writer has been to explore the many ways one gets to be who they are or who they are becoming.

What drew you to the telling of the interracial love story in If You Come Softly? What aspects of this relationship did you want to illuminate for young readers?

A story comes to me from so many angles. When I first started writing If You Come Softly, I thought I was writing a modern Romeo and Juliet. I kept asking myself "What would be different if Romeo and Juliet was being written today?" But when I was younger, I was also deeply affected by the death of Edmund Perry—an African-American boy who was attending prep school and while home on break, was shot by cops. After the death of Perry, I took notice everytime a young black man was shot by cops—which is too often—and later found innocent. I also knew as I was writing this book that I wanted to say "Love who you want. Life is too short to do otherwise." All of this and I'm sure a lot more was there at my desk with me as I sat down each day to work on this book.

What do you do differently, if anything, when you tell a story from a male perspective?

When I'm writing from a male perspective, I try to imagine myself as a boy and I really try to remember as much as I can about the guys I knew and know. It's very different than creating girl characters but I love the challenge of it.

Although these are very different stories, they each reflect what can happen to African Americans when they are impacted by the criminal justice system. What do you want your readers to understand about this?

I don't really know what I want readers to understand. I know what it helps me to understand—that the criminal justice system has historically not worked for African-Americans, that the percentage of people of color as compared to whites in jail, killed by cops, racially profiled and constantly singled out is unbalanced. I want the system to be different and the only way that it can change is if the way our society looks at race changes. And the only way that can happen is if people really start paying attention and making a decision to create change.

  1. Describe Ellie's relationship with her mother and her father. How have her relationships been influenced by things that happened in the past. How is Ellie's life different from her older siblings?
  2. Ellie expected Anne to understand about Miah. Describe their relationship when they were younger. Why did Anne react the way she did? What change did this cause between Ellie and Anne?
  3. Why does Ellie fear her parents' reactions to Miah?
  4. How do Miah's famous parents impact his life? How does he handle the reactions of his peers when they learn about his father? What happens when Ellie learns about them? Should he have told her earlier? Why or why not?
  5. Miah is close to both of his parents. How have they tried to build his self- image? What characteristics does he get from each of them? How is he affected by their separation?
  6. How do teachers and students attempt to stereotype Miah? How does he handle these incidents?
  7. Ellie doesn't have any close girlfriends from her old school or at Percy Academy. What do you think a girlfriend would have said about her relationship with Miah? What advice would you have given Ellie and why?
  8. Miah has a friend Carlton who is mixed racially but considers himself African American. What issues do biracial and mixed racial people face?
  9. If You Come Softly deals with a classic theme of the challenge of loving someone outside of your own group. Name some other well-known couples that faced similar challenges.
  10. The story begins and ends nearly three years after Miah's death. What has happened in Ellie's life? How do you think she handled the tragedy?

Customer Reviews

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If You Come Softly 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 136 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.
ConfuzzledShannon More than 1 year ago
Miah, a black boy, starting a new school runs into Ellie, a Jewish white girl. They feel connected and start a relationship. They keep their relationship a secret because they know their parents will not understand because of their different color. Their future seems bright and hopeful until one day someones bad judgment call ends the life of one of them. I picked this up because of John Green’s new life’s library book club. I am not a big fan of contemporary novels but I do read them from time to time. The characters did grab me and I did fall for Ellie and Miah. I felt Ellie’s pain when she mentioned to her sister about dating someone of color and her sister was against it. Miah parents were not as tolerant on the subject of interracial coupling either. I feel there was a lot more pain in this book then the love Ellie and Miah shared and that made the ending sadder. I disliked one thing about the book and that was that the very first chapter basically tells you how the book ends. Even though I loved the characters getting to know each other and their relationship with their own family there was still that little voice in the back my head saying, “Yeah but so and so is going to kick the bucket.” I do think Woodson is a fine author. For a book that is 20 years old and still relevant is in some ways a good thing for an author but because of the theme it is very sad it is still something the world deals with daily.
tlwood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The miracle of first love leaves an indelible mark on the lives it touches. It defies explanation or reason. It just is, and it¿s right¿no doubt about it. Just ask Ellie and Miah as they both near the end of their first year at Percy, a private school in Manhattan. The both felt their connection on the first day of school just months ago, which soon became deep and blossomed into romance. Sadly, they soon discover that society is still not ready to accept the genuineness and integrity of their relationship, simply because he is black and she is white. If You Come Softly gives voice to Ellie in one chapter and to Miah in the next, repeated throughout. The reader is privy to their emotions, their questions, their frustrations, their hopes and dreams, as they deal with tough family issues, identity issues, as well as their acceptance, excitement, and love of each other. The senseless and tragic ending might be too extreme (though certainly not unrealistic) for some young adults because the subtle foreshadowing might be buried in the ¿first love¿ experience. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book for young adults as they explore the nature of relationships and learn about love.
mattsya on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Moments of this novel are well-realized and touching, but the story is just too slight to recommend without reservations. The tragic ending, especially, is unearned and arbitrary. The relationship is a little too perfect and the troubles they face from others are told in summary rather in direct scenes. It is good for its non-stereotypical African-American character, and for the descriptions of its New York setting.
pachun on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jeremiah and Elisha, both fifteen years old unexpectantly bumps into one another and it is love at first sight. With longing anticipations to see each other again, Ellie is surprised one day to see Miah transfer into her history class. This day starts their friendship and love for one another. Their love and deep reverence for each other help them to overcome judgements from their peers, family members, and other people. Their relationship helps them find happiness. Something that both Miah and Ellie did not have because of their issues with their family. They plan a future together and become committed to one another. Ellie is introduced to Miah's parents, but Ellie struggles to gather up courage to confront her family. Just when she professes her love for Miah, an unexpected tragedy forces Ellie to open up about Miah. This book described a variety of emotions young adults may feel about common issues regarding race, love, friendship, divorce, and family. It touched upon these issues through the characters' problems, but it seemed very shallow. Telling the story with multiple perspectives didn't seem to have any affect on how it can influence a reader's emotion. It was interesting though how the author chose to have Ellie's story told in first-person, while Miah's story was told with a 3rd-person narrative. It was hard to not notice that maybe ellie's story was in her words because she is female and young adult girls can probably relate to it better. I think the book can be part of the fiction collection, but I wouldn't put it on the must have list.
IEliasson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If You Come Softly is so skillfully written and has such exquisite plot complexity it¿s hard to believe it has RL 6. But it does, and maybe that¿s what makes it flow so beautifully. The shift between narrators Jeremiah and Elisha is unforced and extremely effective; both characters are richly developed, as are the sympathetic supporting characters of the parents. The two young lovers are achingly familiar and sympathetic, and their interracial dilemma is thoughtfully explored instead of exploited. Even though there is foreshadowing aplenty of the tragic ending, the reader keeps hoping and rooting for these star-crossed lovers, and when the tragically poetic climax transpires, the catharsis the reader experiences is the stuff of Greek tragedy.
Alina100 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elisha, a Jew falls in love with Jeremiah who is black. They both entered the relationship knowing the obstacles they were going to face as a result of their different racial backgrounds. Their love was strong enough to stand the hardships they experienced. They each brought out the best in each other and performed very well at school. Jeremiah had courage to introduce Elisha to his mother. However, Elisha was not sure how her parents would react. Her sister had disapproved of her dating a Black when she first announced her crush on Jeremiah. The day she was going to introduce him, he was shot by the police for being in a wrong place at the wrong time (a black man in a white neighborhood).
MissBoyer3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
sexy_librarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ellie is the youngest child in a Jewish family, whose mother has abandoned her twice. Jeramiah is the only son of a famous director and a novelist, who have separated. Both feel out of place in life, until they meet each other. But is the world ready to accept their love? This is a very sweet story about an interracial high school couple, but I felt that it could have been more developed.
ewang109 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Woodson, J. (1998). If you come softly. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam¿s Sons.¿I had run right into him, my math and science textbooks crashing to the floor. Then he was apologizing and I was apologizing and were both bending at the same time to retrieve them¿ (Woodson, 1998, p. 14). Neither Jeremiah (Miah) nor Ellie knew that bumping into each other at Percy Academy would forever change their lives. They instantly fall in love with each other from this occurrence. For them it is love at first sight.Soon they become boyfriend and girlfriend. However, their relationship is complicated because of their race and ethnicity: Ellie is white Jewish girl and Jeremiah is African-American boy from Brooklyn. Their love for each other prevails despite receiving stares and racial slurs from others. Nevertheless, nothing could prepare them for an unexpected event when Jeremiah walks home in an all-white neighborhood. Woodson uses this event to highlight the ultimate tragedy that could occur from racial injustice.The story moves at a fast pace, which keeps readers engaged. It is also told by three different narrators: Ellie, Jeremiah, and a third-person perspective. Nonetheless, the story flows seamlessly even with three different narrators. Each perspective contributes to an overall bigger picture of Ellie and Jeremiah¿s friendship and love. However, the event of bumping into each other and falling madly in love seems slightly cliché to me. Furthermore, although the characters deal with complex issues, such as resentment, fear of abandonment, and loneliness, they did not seem completely realistic. In my opinion, Jeremiah and Ellie are too mature to be fifteen years old. At one point in the story, they profess their undying love for each other and want to marry each other. I know that the book was voted in 1999 as one of ALA¿s Best Young Adult Books, but I found the love story aspect quite saccharin. For this reason, the book would be a nice addition to a school library¿s young adult collection, but I do not think that it is a must-have novel. Appropriate for grades 7 and up.
kayla_ann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the fiction novel, If You Come Softly is about Jeremiah who is fifteen and black and Ellie who is fifteen, white and Jewish. They meet at a private school, fall in love and then have to deal with how society treats them because they¿re an interracial couple. The story takes place in Washington Heights, a section of Manhattan. Ellie lives with her mother, who twice abandoned her. Ellie¿s mom left when she was little, and her brothers and sisters took care of each other. Her mother came back and left again when her siblings moved out. Since Ellie is now older, she is left alone most of the time. Her dad is a doctor, therefore, he¿s not home as much, but he tries to be. Her mother came back and Ellie can't trust her anymore. They try to reconnect, although it¿s extremely difficult to believe and trust her mother. Jeremiah's parents are divorced and his dad lives across the street from his mother. Jeremiah¿s dad is a famous movie director and his mother is a well known author. Jeremiah is a basket ball player at Percy Academy. He¿s not the only black individual in this school, but he feels out of place sometimes. His world turns upside down after he meets Ellie. The two of them fall so deeply in love, but they can¿t be together because it¿s too dangerous. The obstacles that they are facing are, racism, police brutality and people¿s opinion. Ellie and Jeremiah seem as though they don¿t care what the ¿world¿ has to say when they¿re together. Ellie¿s parents don¿t know about her and Jeremiah, and she¿s afraid to tell them because she won¿t know how they will react. Although Ellie hasn¿t told her parents, Jeremiah¿s mother knows about they¿re relationship. Basically, both of them have this deep connection and attraction to each other, but in the cruel world they live in, it¿s almost impossible for them to be together. I won¿t spoil the end, but no one knows what they have until it¿s gone, and that¿s a hard lesson for Ellie to learn in the next novel Behind You. I would definitely recommend this book. I recommend this heartfelt novel because it has a lot of emotion and love. In my opinion, when I start to read, I can¿t stop because I want to know what happens next, or how everything turns out. If anyone decides to read this brilliant novel, you¿ll most definitely want to read the squeal, Behind You, to see what happens to Ellie and Jeremiah.
johnsonblock1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book i highly recomend; its about a girl who falls in love with a guy in her grade that she runs into in the hall! they fall in love but, they are constently stared at all the time!! but after they relize they dont care what people think!! READ IT!
mrsdwilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elisha (Ellie) and Jeramiah (Miah) attend the same fancy prep school. They are both new to the school, and they literally bump into each other. They are instantly attracted to each other. Though their lives are outwardly very different, they are very much alike on the inside. Ellie is white and her parents are still together, but no longer in love. Ellie has several older brothers and sisters who have all moved away from home. Miah is black, the only child of a celebrity couple who has recently divorced. Both feel misunderstood and out of place at home, but find understanding in each other.Miah and Ellie quickly start spending all of their free time together and their relationship blossoms. Though no one says anything directly to the couple, their peers (and random strangers) stare and talk about them. Miah finally introduces Ellie to his mother. Just when Ellie gathers the courage to tell her parents about Miah, tragedy strikes.The story is told with grace and Woodson gives us lots to think about. The ending was beautiful and sad. Though it was well-done, I was a bit disappointed, if only because I wanted something more for Miah and Ellie.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This beautiful book for Young Adults is about star-crossed first love between a black boy, fifteen-year-old Jeremiah (¿Miah¿), and a white girl of the same age, Ellie, who meet at Percy Prep School in New York City. In spite of coming from relatively privileged backgrounds, both kids are basically lonely until they find each other.As their relationship blossoms, they put up with a steady stream of stares and obscene remarks. They talk about it, and decide they will treat it like rain:"Miah: Let¿s say it¿s rain ¿ the people who got problems with us being together ¿ let¿s call them and their problems rain.Ellie nodded. ¿Okay, they¿re rain.¿ She smiled. ¿So now what?¿Miah: ¿So it¿s not always raining, is it? But when it¿s not raining, we know the rain isn¿t gone forever.¿Ellie sighed. ¿Well a drought would be a beautiful thing.¿But in the story, it just rains harder, until one day, the downpour doesn¿t stop.Evaluation: Get the Kleenex ready and read this book. Issues of black and white, of divorce and infidelity, even of gay and straight, are touched upon in this book, with sensitivity, realism, and love. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If You Come Softly is a book that can truly open your eyes. One of the books main focus is race and relationships. It gives people a look into something that happens everyday. Jacqueline Woodson which is the author, took one of the biggest issues we still have today and made sure she got her message across with writing this book. She gives you a strong idea of what it’s like to be in an interracial relationship and all of the baggage that comes with one. A white girl named Ellie and a black boy named Jeremiah meet at school for the first time. When they met both of them instantly knew that something was there, some type of interest between them. Later on they get to know each other and they start to fall for each other. Since they aren't the same race there was obviously going to be some type of backlash or criticism from the people around them. I believe that people should be able to have friendships and relationships with whoever they want. It's unfortunate that this problem most likely will not get resolved because someone will always have their input and opinions on others and their lives. We live in such a cruel world and the character Jeremiah didn't have a fair play in his life. This book has a very emotional ending that can really touch the reader. Jacqueline Woodson did a great job with being able to connect my emotions to the characters. This is now one of my favorite books because it has so much meaning it gets you thinking about type world we live in. I give this book a five out of five rating, I would definitely read the book over again. It's so moving I highly recommend reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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