I didn’t know about Jacqueline Woodson. I don’t even remember where I got the recommendation to read her books.
But I’m glad I know now.
If You Come Softly is about a Jewish girl and Black boy at a mostly white New York prep school who come together in love.
No, it’s not what you think. There are some obvious ways this story could have been addressed, but Woodson chose a more lyrical, complex route than what I’ve come across before.
Their coming together is portrayed as a love that just is; no particular reason but that they recognize something familiar in each other. (I love how Woodson has the boy describe how he feels like the girl is wrapped inside him, inside his eyes and chest, it sounds better in the book than here, believe me)
And the parents of the two never deal with the race issue because they don’t know until the very end of the book. But the portrayal of how the two love eachother as individuals while feeling confused about how they can do so while having complicated feelings for an entire race is so very poignant and true.
And much like I feel sometimes, thinking about my own husband. How is it possible for us to only love and be familiar with and treat as human in their own right one at a time from any group of people? Why, if I’m married to a Japanese man, does that make me not racist or guilty of stereotyping any subsequent Japanese men I meet?
And Woodson doesn’t pull punches. The boy, does have some difficult realizations about how people treat him when he’s with the girl, and realizes as well that when they’re together and she stops noticing race as an issue, it isn’t the same thing at all as when he stops noticing race as an issue. (She tells him that she feels ‘no color’ when they’re together, but he realizes that he always feels ‘black’ and then realizes she doesn’t quite understand her own whiteness)
And Woodson addressed layers of issue related to the race issue. She has a rift develop between the girl and the girl’s gay sister when the sister finds out the boy she’s dating is black. And in the phone conversation they have, Woodson brings up issues of how minorities can fall into the trap of propagating the mainstream prejudice eventhough they “understand” what prejudice is when directed towards themselves.
But most of all, the writing is lovely. And accessible. And compelling.
Definitely recommended for anyone who might have an interest in how race issues in relationships might be addressed by a non-white writer.