Monday, August 4, 2014

if you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Once again, Jacqueline Woodson has enlightened us and proven herself to be one of the master storytellers in YA fiction.

She presents us with a tender story, a modern variation of what some would initially think is a simple Romeo & Juliet, until one digs deeper into the mastery of her work.

The story, set in New York, brings together two of the major ethnic peoples - one African American and one Jewish - without having artificial discussions of race, ethnicity, and religion.  Those discussions are there in the everyday language of a group of teens who are somewhat used to being in a more diverse world than their grandparents.

Set against the backdrop of one of New York's elite private school, the first meeting and first love magic unfolds through one kid's whose parents are rich and famous, and another who is struggling to pay the exorbitant fees.  It is not as one would expect.

The journey through the story, much like a casual walk through Central Park, shifts the reader's focus from first person to third person.  We observe one teen and are sitting down with another teen telling a memory with as much affection and care as one about to graduate high school is willing to discuss. We encounter two teens on an island that while small, contains a world of people just a train ride away.

I was not expecting the ending. There was a part of me that wanted so much more for a newly declared love.
This book was recommended by one of the teens in my Hurston & Hughes Literary Circle.  I've spent this summer deep in African American/Black YA Fiction and have had the pleasure of returning to my teenage years to wrestle with some of those confusing life moments.  This story carries with it some of the invisibility and "all about me" attitude that is typical and universal of teens discovering their place in an emergent world.

New experiences, new sites, and the confusing roller coaster of parents making decisions that affect their lives, Miah and Ellie, invite us to remember what it was once like.  To imagine what it could be like.  And to learn to live fully, even if we never understand the "why" of when things happen to shatter our reality.

Borrowing the title from a poem written by the great Audre Lorde, the book challenges us with the use of language, invites us to examine assumptions, and leaves us with so many great quotes that I expect this to be taught in AP English Classes across the country.




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