Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The theme at the core of the book is that when love presents itself, one should seize it, for one never knows how long it will last. Any challenges along the way will be best met and overcome together. The thoughtful, nervous way that Ellie and Miah approach each other speaks to the pervasive truth that society often cannot accept difference. By coming together, these characters prove that it is better to take the risk and brave the consequences than to squander a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Woodson chooses the potentially difficult relationship of a black teen and a white teen to address her universal assertion that passion should not be denied out of fear of what could go wrong.

Ultimately, Miah’s death brings tragedy to their relationship, but it was not the expected complication. For the people in their lives, Miah and Ellie’s relationship proved less problematic than they had feared. Looking back, a reader can see that Ellie and Miah would have been wrong to stay apart, for it was the only chance they were ever going to have to be together. Miah and Ellie’s uncertainty during the course of the story emphasizes that relationships may not be easy or straightforward but that confronting the challenges they pose is a brave and fulfilling approach to life. When tragedy falls, it leaves in its wake beautiful memories rather than haunting regrets. The novel’s title refers to an Audre Lorde poem, “If You Come Softly,” which Woodson quotes in the text. The gently lyrical poem captures the mood of the novel perfectly, telling of quiet togetherness and deep sorrow.