If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Before she began work at Skylark, Beth Shapiro was the librarian at Rock Bridge High School, so she knows her young adult fiction better than just about anyone. Here’s her take on a classic YA title…

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If you haven’t yet heard the big news, author Jacqueline Woodson is coming to Columbia on April 19 as Unbound Book Festival’s “Kids’ Keynote” to speak with all 8th graders at the Missouri Theatre.  In anticipation of Woodson’s visit, I decided to read her young adult book If You Come Softly, which also happens to be the inaugural pick of the brand-new book club “Life’s Library launched by author John Green and vlogger Rosianna Halse Rojas

Written 20 years ago, If You Come Softly remains as poignant and relevant in today’s times as it was then.  The title references the beginning of a poem by Audre Lorde that opens as follows:

If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

The title and poem hint at what Woodson so lyrically offers to readers: a gentle, natural story that climaxes in tragedy.  Two 15-year-old who meet at their New York private school—Ellie who is white and Jeremiah who is black—fall in love.  Woodson provides beautiful glimpses into each teen’s life, revealing first love’s innocence and purity. As their relationship deepens, the young couple encounters prejudice and police brutality.

Fans of The Hate U Give might find this title appealing due to the several shared themes, however Woodson’s book is a far more delicate read than Angie Thomas’s, which is presented more forcefully.  I strongly recommend both books to readers of all ages for unflinching looks at racism, both now and 20 years ago. 

At Skylark we carry both titles, as well as several others by Jacqueline Woodson and John Green, plus poetry collections by Audre Lorde.  We’ll also happily keep you stocked with John Green and Rosianna Halse Rojas’s future book club selections.