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Cover image for If you come softly
If you come softly


New York : Putnam's, 1998.
Physical Description:
181 pages ; 22 cm
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.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader Upper Grade 4.0 4.0 Kilgore Intermediate.


Call Number

On Order



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...."

Author Notes

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio on February 12, 1963. She received a B.A. in English from Adelphi University in 1985. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a drama therapist for runaways and homeless children in New York City. Her books include The House You Pass on the Way, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, Lena, and The Day You Begin. She won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2001 for Miracle's Boys. After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers, and Show Way won Newbery Honors. Brown Girl Dreaming won the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award in 2015. Her other awards include the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. She was also selected as the Young People's Poet Laureate in 2015 by the Poetry Foundation.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-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. Thus, the tragic climax will leave them stunned. Woodson's lyrical narrative tells the story through alternating voices, Ellie's in the first person and Miah's in the third. This fine author once again shows her gift for penning a novel that will ring true with young adults as it makes subtle comments on social situations.-Tom S. Hurlburt, La Crosse Public Library, WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Jeremiah, who is African American, and Ellie, who is white, meet and fall in love at their private high school. Narrated by Ellie, with alternating chapters presenting Jeremiah's story in the third person, the novel gets inside the heads of these smart, sensitive teenagers, succeeding more as a character study than a stirring romance. The tragic conclusion is moving but truncates a story that requires a deeper edge. From HORN BOOK Fall 1999, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

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)

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-10. People stare when teenagers Miah and Ellie touch and hold hands in public. He is black. She is white. In alternating chapters, we learn about how they meet in their private high school and fall in love, and we learn a lot about their families, both of which are far from perfect. As in all her fiction, Woodson confronts prejudice head-on. Miah's family is rich and famous, but when he and Ellie walk in Central Park, two old white women ask her if she is all right. Ellie, whose family is Jewish and secular, comes to realize that she takes her whiteness, her race, for granted in a way that Miah never can. He always knows he is black. The burning of black churches in the South are part of who he is. His mother accepts Ellie; so does his friend whose family is biracial. But Ellie's lesbian older sister asks Ellie to think twice about dating a black guy. What will her parents do? Readers will wish that Woodson had given us that elemental scene when Ellie brings Miah home to dinner. Instead, the sudden violent ending is a devastating shock that seems stuck on, though it does make us go back and reread the story for clues, and they are there. Many will want to go on from this story to the personal essays in Half & Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural. (Reviewed October 1, 1998)0399231129Hazel Rochman