A Mini Rambly Review: If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Recently, the 20th anniversary edition of Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly was released. The novel got a new look and opened with Woodson’s thoughts on why this novel remains to be an important one for her readers. Some reasons are good–they give me hope for humanity–and some, well, not so much.

In case you didn’t already know, If You Come Softly is a modern day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. And I just can’t talk about the novel without spoiling it in a major way, SO BEWARE OF SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON: only one of the teenagers die and it’s Jeremiah. That’s one of the tragic reasons why this book remains to be a relevant one.

Police brutality and the way in which the bodies of Black people, even Black children, are seen as intrinsically threatening is not a new discussion for so many. And yet, these are things people–especially non-Black folks–do not often acknowledge, can never completely understand. This book gives readers a start. Of course, it is still at it’s core, a love story–but there are so many different kinds of love in it. It makes sense that the title borrows from this Audre Lorde poem:

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

I believe the book opens with this stanza, so you know what you are in for, you know why you are in for it.

The novel is told through Miah and Ellie’s alternating POVs, from the moment they bump into each other at school, to the growth of their relationship, and through Miah’s murder. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to have written it in this way. The prose, of course, is beautiful in the way that only Woodson can create so much beauty from so much heartbreak. It’s not an especially long novel, but Miah and Ellie’s story are sure to haunt you in ways that Romeo and Juliet’s story never could.

Highly recommended.

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