If You Come Softly

Paperback | January 7, 2010

byJacqueline Woodson

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A heartbreaking contemporary romance from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

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...."

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A heartbreaking contemporary romance from a three-time Newbery Honor winning authorJeremiah 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 t...

Born on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She now writes full-time and has recently received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Her other awards include a Ne...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 8.25 × 5.45 × 0.38 inPublished:January 7, 2010Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142415227

ISBN - 13:9780142415221

Appropriate for ages: 9 - 12

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I couldn’t stop looking at him, at his smile and his hair. I had never seen locks up close. His were thick and black and spiraling down over his shoulders. I wanted to touch them, to touch his face. I wanted to hear him say his name again. For a moment we stared at each other, neither of us saying anything. There was something familiar about him, something I had seen before. I blinked, embarrassed suddenly, and turned away from him.Then Jeremiah rose and I rose.“Well . . . good-bye. I guess . . . I guess I’ll see you around,” he said softly, looking at me a moment longer before turning away and heading down the hall, his locks bouncing gently against his shoulders.“Jeremiah,” I whispered to myself as I walked away from him. I could feel his name, settling around me, as though I was walking in a mist of it, of him, of Jeremiah.ALSO BY JACQUELINE WOODSONAfter Tupac and D FosterBehind YouBeneath a Meth MoonBetween Madison and PalmettoBrown Girl DreamingThe Dear OneFeathersFrom the Notebooks of Melanin SunThe House You Pass on the WayHushI Hadn’t Meant to Tell You ThisLast Summer with MaizonLenaLocomotionMaizon at Blue HillMiracle’s BoysPeace, LocomotionTable of ContentsAt first sightAlso by Jacqueline WoodsonTitle PageDedicationCopyright Page Part OneChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6 Part TwoChapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26 Questions for DiscussionAn Excerpt from Brown Girl DreamingAn Excerpt from Behind YouThe tide and the poem “If You Come Softly” by Audre Lorde are from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde published by W. W. Norton and reprinted by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.SPEAK Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1998 Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2003 Reissued by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2006  Copyright © Jacqueline Woodson, 1998All rights reservedTHE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS EDITION AS FOLLOWS: Woodson, Jacqueline. If you come softly / Jacqueline Woodson. p. cm. Summary: After meeting at their private school in New York, fifteen-year-old Jeremiah, who is black and whose parents are separated, and Ellie, who is white and whose mother has twice abandoned her, fall in love and then try to cope with people’s reactions.ISBN: 9781101076972 For the ones like JeremiahIf you come as softly as the wind within the trees You may hear what I hear See what sorrow sees.MY MOTHER CALLS TO ME FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE stairs, and I pull myself slowly from a deep sleep. It is June. Outside the sky is bright blue and clear. In the distance I can see Central Park, the trees brilliant green against the sky. I was dreaming of Miah.“Elisha,” Marion calls again. She sounds worried and I know she is standing at the bottom of the stairs, her hand moving slowly up and down the banister, waiting for me to answer. But I can’t answer yet. Not now.Is there a boy? Marion asked me that fall, when Miah was new. And I lied and told her there wasn’t one.She is standing at the door now, her arms folded in front of her. “Time to get up, sweetie. Are you all right?”I nod and continue to stare out the window, my hair falling down around my eyes, my pajamas hot and sticky against my skin.No, Marion, there isn’t a boy. Not now. Not anymore.She comes to the bed and sits beside me. I feel the bed sink down with the weight of her, smell her perfume.“I dreamed about Miah last night,” I say softly, leaning my head against her shoulder. Outside, there are taxicabs blowing their horns. In the seconds of quiet between the noise, I can hear birds. And my own breathing.Marion moves her hand over my head. Slowly. Softly. “Was it a good dream?”I frown. “Yes ... I think so. But I don’t remember it all.”“Remember what you can, Elisha,” Marion whispers, kissing me on the forehead. “Remember what you can.”I close my eyes again.And remember what I can.Part OneThe EndingJeremiah YOU DO NOT DIE. YOUR SOUL STEPS OUT OF YOUR BODY, shakes itself hard because it’s been carrying the weight of your heavy skin for fifteen years. Then your soul lifts up and looks down on your body lying there—looks down on the blood running onto concrete, your eyes snapped open like the pages in some kid’s forgotten picture book, your chest not moving. Your soul sees this and feels something beyond sadness—feels its whole self whispering further away. Shhhh. Shhhh. Shhhh—past the trees in Central Park, past the statues and runners and children playing on swings. Shhhh. Shhhh. Shhhh. Over yellow taxicabs and late-afternoon flickering streetlights. Shhhh away from the dusting of snow, the white tips of trees, the darkening sky. Already you hear your mother screaming. Already you see your father dropping his head into his hands. Helpless. Already you see your friends—walking through the halls of Percy Academy. Stunned. But you do not die. Each breath your soul takes is cool and reminds you of a taste you loved a long time ago. Licorice. Peppermint. Rain. Then your soul is you all over again, only lighter and freer and able to be a thousand and one places at once. Your new soul eyes look around. See two cops standing there with their mouths hanging open. One cop curses and kicks a tree. Slowly your soul realizes it’s in a park. There are trees all around you. And both cops look scared.He’s dead, one cop says.And the other curses again. Your soul doesn’t like the way the curse word sounds. Too hard. Too heavy in the new soul-light air.The cops can’t see you. They see a dead body on the ground—a young boy. A black boy. They know this is not the man they’d been looking for. They know they’ve made a mistake. Your soul looks at the boy and knows his friends called him Miah but his full name was Jeremiah Roselind. Tall. Dark. He has locks and the locks are spread over the ground. His eyes are opened wide. Greenish gray lifeless eyes. Your soul thinks—somebody loved that boy once. Thinks—once that boy was me. The wind blows the snow left, right and up. You are so light, you move with the wind and the snow. Let the weather take you. And it lifts you up—over a world of sadness and anger and fear. Over a world of first kisses and hands touching and someone you’re falling in love with. She’s there now. Right there. Look closely. Yeah. That’s her. That’s my Ellie.The HurtingEllie FOR A LONG TIME AFTER MIAH DIED, SO MANY PEOPLE DIDN’T sleep. At night, we lay in bed with our eyes wide open and watched the way night settled down over wherever we were. I was in a room on the Upper West Side, in a house my parents moved to a long time ago. Not a house—a duplex apartment in a fancy building with a doorman. My dad’s a doctor. My mother stays at home. I go to Percy Academy. Some people look at me and see a white girl in a uniform—burgundy jacket and gray skirt—and think, She has all the privilege in the world. I look back at them, thinking, If only you knew.If only they knew how we were sprinkled all over the city—me in my big room, Nelia in her Fort Greene brownstone, Norman in his girlfriend’s apartment, aunts and uncles and cousins, even strangers—all over New York City—none of us slept. We lay there staring up at our ceilings or out into the darkness. Or some days we stopped in the middle of doing something and forgot what it was we were doing. We thought, Jeremiah’s dead. We whispered, Jeremiah’s dead. As if the whispering and the thinking could help us to understand. We didn’t eat enough. We peed only when the need to pee got so big, we thought we’d wet our pants. We pulled the covers off ourselves in the mornings then sat on the edge of our beds, not knowing what to do next. If those strangers looked, really looked into my privileged white girl face, they would have seen the place where I wasn’t even there. Where a part of me died too.Miah died on a Saturday afternoon. That evening, the calls started coming. First his mom, Nelia, asking if Miah was still with me. Then his dad, Norman. Then the cops. Then silence. Silence that lasted into the night and into the next dawn. Then the phone ringing one more time and Nelia saying, Ellie, Miah’s been shot. . . . I don’t remember much more than that. There was a funeral. There were tears. There were days and days spent in my bed. A fever maybe.There was no more Miah.No more Miah.No more Miah and me.Chapter 3HE LOVED THE LIGHT IN HIS MAMA’S KITCHEN. THE yellow stained-glass panes across the top of the windows buttered the room a soft gold-even now, in the early evening with the rain coming down hard outside.“Your daddy left a message,” his mama said. “Said he had to go out to L.A. Be back Sunday night. Left a number.”“Guess I’m spending the week here then.” Jeremiah glanced out the kitchen window. There was no light on in his father’s apartment. He was glad he didn’t have to make a decision. Every night it was the same thing. You gonna stay here? You gonna stay here? His mama and daddy’s voices beating against the side of his head, begging him as if they were really saying, Choose me. No, choose me. For the hundredth time, no, maybe the thousandth time, he wished he had a brother or sister—somebody to go up against them with. Someone to help relieve some of the stuff they put him through. How long would it have to be like this anyway? Two addresses. Two phone numbers. Two bedrooms.

Bookclub Guide

ABOUT JACQUELINE WOODSONBorn on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She now writes full-time and has recently received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Her other awards include a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King award, 2 National Book Award finalists, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Although she spends most of her time writing, Woodson also enjoys reading the works of emerging writers and encouraging young people to write, spending time with her friends and her family, and sewing. Jacqueline Woodson currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.RELATED TITLESDancerby Lorri HewettStephanie works hard to pursue her dream of becoming a professional ballerina while coping with the pressures of her family expectations and those at her mostly white private school.Lives of Our Ownby Lorri HewettAfrican American Shawna and white schoolmate Kari defy the unspoken social standards of their small town as they work together to reveal a hidden community secret.Money Hungryby Sharon FlakeA period of homelessness and poverty has made Raspberry Hill determined to hoard as much cash as possible.Monsterby Walter Dean MyersAspiring filmmaker Steve Harmon copes with his arrest for murder by relating his story as if it were a movie script.145th Streetby Walter Dean MyersThe highs and lows of one Harlem neighborhood are explored in ten stories.Othello: A Novelby Julius LesterThis novelization of Shakespeare's classic play revisits the story of interracial love and tragedy.Tears of a Tigerby Sharon DraperAndy Jackson, feels responsible for the death of his good friend, Robert, in a drunk driving accident.Zackby William BellZack, the son of a African American mother and a Jewish father, experiences racial rejection for the first time when his family moves from Toronto to a small college town, and feels a need to connect with his family history.OTHER BOOKS BY JACQUELINE WOODSONLast Summer with MaizonReissue available Summer 2002HC: 0-399-23755-0PB:TKBetween Madison and PalmettoReissue available Fall 2002HC: 0-399-23757-7PB: TKMaizon at Blue HillReissue available Fall 2002HC: 0-399-23576-9PB: TKAN INTERVIEW WITH JACQUELINE WOODSONWhy do you write for young adults?I think it's an important age. My young adult years had the biggest impact on me of any period in my life and I remember so much about them. When I need to access the physical memories and/or emotional memories of that period in my life, it isn't such a struggle. And kids are great.The issue of identity is central to the three books under discussion, yet each seems to approach this topic differently. Was this a deliberate choice on your part? What does each of these stories say about the teen characters and their struggles to define themselves?Identity has always been an important and very relevant issue for me. For a lot of reasons, I've been 'assigned' many identities. From a very young age, I was being told what I was—black, female, slow, fast, a tomboy, stubborn—the list goes on and on. And this happens with many children as they are trying to become. So that by the time we're young adults, no wonder we're a mess!! There are so many ways we come to being who we are, so many ways in which we search for our true selves, so many varying circumstances around that search. No two people are alike but every young person is looking for definition. My journey as a writer has been to explore the many ways one gets to be who they are or who they are becoming.What drew you to the telling of the interracial love story in If You Come Softly? What aspects of this relationship did you want to illuminate for young readers?A story comes to me from so many angles. When I first started writing If You Come Softly, I thought I was writing a modern Romeo and Juliet. I kept asking myself "What would be different if Romeo and Juliet was being written today?" But when I was younger, I was also deeply affected by the death of Edmund Perry—an African-American boy who was attending prep school and while home on break, was shot by cops. After the death of Perry, I took notice everytime a young black man was shot by cops—which is too often—and later found innocent. I also knew as I was writing this book that I wanted to say "Love who you want. Life is too short to do otherwise." All of this and I'm sure a lot more was there at my desk with me as I sat down each day to work on this book.What do you do differently, if anything, when you tell a story from a male perspective?When I'm writing from a male perspective, I try to imagine myself as a boy and I really try to remember as much as I can about the guys I knew and know. It's very different than creating girl characters but I love the challenge of it.Although these are very different stories, they each reflect what can happen to African Americans when they are impacted by the criminal justice system. What do you want your readers to understand about this?I don't really know what I want readers to understand. I know what it helps me to understand—that the criminal justice system has historically not worked for African-Americans, that the percentage of people of color as compared to whites in jail, killed by cops, racially profiled and constantly singled out is unbalanced. I want the system to be different and the only way that it can change is if the way our society looks at race changes. And the only way that can happen is if people really start paying attention and making a decision to create change.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSDescribe Ellie's relationship with her mother and her father. How have her relationships been influenced by things that happened in the past. How is Ellie's life different from her older siblings? Ellie expected Anne to understand about Miah. Describe their relationship when they were younger. Why did Anne react the way she did? What change did this cause between Ellie and Anne? Why does Ellie fear her parents' reactions to Miah? How do Miah's famous parents impact his life? How does he handle the reactions of his peers when they learn about his father? What happens when Ellie learns about them? Should he have told her earlier? Why or why not? Miah is close to both of his parents. How have they tried to build his self- image? What characteristics does he get from each of them? How is he affected by their separation? How do teachers and students attempt to stereotype Miah? How does he handle these incidents? Ellie doesn't have any close girlfriends from her old school or at Percy Academy. What do you think a girlfriend would have said about her relationship with Miah? What advice would you have given Ellie and why? Miah has a friend Carlton who is mixed racially but considers himself African American. What issues do biracial and mixed racial people face? If You Come Softly deals with a classic theme of the challenge of loving someone outside of your own group. Name some other well-known couples that faced similar challenges. The story begins and ends nearly three years after Miah's death. What has happened in Ellie's life? How do you think she handled the tragedy?