(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

If You Come Softly is a love story. The novel tells of two young people, Miah and Ellie, who fall in love unexpectedly and are preparing themselves to accept all that their love will mean to them and to the world, when their moment of possibility is tragically stolen. Ellie is the novel’s first-person narrator, while Miah’s third-person voice offers his perspective in equal measure.

Miah and Ellie meet at Percy Academy, where both are new transfer students. Miah, an African American basketball player from Brooklyn, wears his hair in dreadlocks and is skeptical about attending a school with so many white students. Ellie drops her books in the hallway, and Miah helps her pick them up. Curiosity sparks between them, and they think about each other constantly as they return to their regular lives.

Ellie lives with her parents in a wealthy neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She has four much older siblings scattered around the country. When Ellie was young, her mother twice abandoned the family, so Ellie still feels anger and mistrust toward her mother, calling her by her first name. After meeting Miah, she wonders what her family will think about her interest in dating an African American student. When she floats the idea in a phone call to her sister, Anne, Anne’s response is not enthusiastic. Ellie becomes nervous about telling her parents about Miah. For the rest of the novel, she struggles with figuring out when...

(The entire section is 550 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bishop, Rudine Simms. Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007. History and analysis of the evolution of African American writing for children and young adults; begins with the oral culture of slave narratives and moves through the twentieth century to ultimately discuss contemporary African American writers for young audiences, including Jacqueline Woodson.

Lorde, Audre. The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. This complete collection of Audre Lorde’s poetry, including rare early works, contains the full text of the poem “If You Come Softly,” which inspired Woodson’s novel.

Sullivan, Ed. “Race Matters.” School Library Journal, June 1, 2002. Discusses young adult books that deal with race issues, including interracial dating; covers If You Come Softly.

Woodson, Jacqueline. “Jacqueline Woodson: This Year’s Edwards Award-Winner Takes on Life’s Toughest Challenges—Poverty, Prejudice, Love and Loss.” Interview by Deborah Taylor. School Library Journal, June 1, 2006. Article and interview featuring Jacqueline Woodson upon her receipt of the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring lifetime achievement in writing literature for young adults. Includes discussion of reader reaction to If You Come Softly.