Book Review: If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Note: This review is part of the 2016 Summer Reading Diversity Spotlight.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
Release Date: January 7, 2010 (Reprint) (First Published September 28, 1998)
Publisher: Speak
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 978-0142415221
Source: Library
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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….”


First and foremost, whatever you do, do not read the synopsis of this book on Goodreads. The synopsis on Amazon is okay but the synopsis on Goodreads spoils the ending of the book. Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

If you’re looking for a moving contemporary romance that you can start and finish on the way home from the beach, check out If You Come Softly. I say on the way home rather than on the way to the beach because tone wise, it’s more settling than it is thrilling. It’s quiet. It’s thoughtful. It’s a heavier romance. It’s a story that follows Ellie and Jeremiah, a Jewish girl and a Black boy, as they meet, grow closer and what comes after when they’re together. In public. In a time when black churches are getting vandalized at least once a week. This is a story of innocent love meeting the real world, meeting the realities of racism and white privilege. It’s a small book that packs a big punch.

As for Ellie and Jeremiah? I really enjoyed the family contrast of Ellie’s family and Jeremiah’s family. Ellie has many siblings (one of which is lesbian, solid representation here, #ownvoices). Jeremiah is an only child. Ellie has dealt with the abandonment of a parent and has a very distant relationship with her mother, whom she calls by her first name. Jeremiah has very present parents, one of which is very well known to not only Jeremiah but the nation. Both are well off but Jeremiah often misses his life before moving and starting high school in one of the most expensive high schools in the city.

Kudos for seeing a black kid who comes from a well off family. Not every black person is poor or in the middle class. So thanks for this representation. What I love most is that even though he does have culture shock as he leaves the daily of what he has always known, he’s close enough to go back to what he recognizes as home and he never leaves behind what he connects to most.

There’s so much to appreciate here – so much to relate to, to unpack though it’s best you read this for yourself and get what you need out of it rather than me telling you what to get out of it. So be sure to read If You Come Softly this summer if you haven’t already.

This is #QuietYA and it’s YA that’s so timely and I don’t know what made me decide that this would be the second book by Jacqueline Woodson that I would read but I am so, so glad that this book stood out and I read it. Long overdue for all those who have yet to read it.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson is available today.