If You Come Softly

Woodson, Jacqueline


GP Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1998. 181 p.




Ah yes, you guessed it already. Another heart-smashing (“breaking” doesn’t cut it this time) book about young people in tragic circumstances. This book is the saddest one I’ve read from Woodson yet, and I just don’t know if my heart can take any more.


The book centers on two young people in love, Jeremiah and Ellie. They live in New York City with fairly good parents and in good homes and neighborhoods. But of course, there’s a catch. Jeremiah is black and Ellie is white. Neither has ever dated someone of a different color, so they have to deal with their own mixed emotions as well as their parents’ and the people around them. As if that’s not enough strife and upset, the book ends quite abruptly with unforeseen violence and tragedy of Greek proportions. Why, Jacqueline, why???


Jeremiah and Ellie are both bright and likable characters who really represent their generation and situation well. I don’t know how Woodson gets into people’s heads the way she does, but she does it amazingly well, and this book really resonates truth and purity. The kids are really still just kids in high school coping with hormones and parental misunderstandings and peer pressure and everything we all dealt with during our teenage years. But add to all that the pressure on Jeremiah as the only son of a genius filmmaker and genius author, and the pressure Ellie has as the youngest daughter of protective parents, one of which has already nearly abandoned the family once. The way the two meet is very sweet and romantic, and the way it all ends just makes every moment they shared even more tender and special. When you’re a teenager in love everything seems so important and so tragic, but in Jeremiah and Ellie’s case, it all really is that big.


The setting of New York City in the winter is beautiful and a perfect backdrop for these two young people in love. The city is big and vibrant, but people are still set in old ways and there is evil just underneath the surface. It always sounds so perfect to be young and in love in the big city, but Woodson gives us quite the opposite with this book. Read this book, but be prepared for heartache.