If You Come Softly
If You Come Softly is a young adult romance novella writtien by Jacqueline Woodson. It was first published in 1998 by Penguin Books. It follows Elisha and Jeremiah, a Caucasian girl and an African-American boy who meet at a fancy high school. The book deeply covers the themes of love, prejudice, and racism.
If You Come Softly is narrated by Ellie.
Quotes from If You Come Softly
- "Don't get too black. Black monkey. Where's my beautiful black baby child. You're a black man. You're a warrior. Jeremiah sighed and stared out over the block. All the things people had always said to him--yeah, he'd heard then again and again. But sometimes, looking in the mirror, he had no idea who he was or why he was in this world."
- p. 11
- Our doorman, Henry, waved when he saw me then rushed forward, holding an oversized umbrella over mine. We had lived on Eighty-Eighth and Central Park West since I was a baby. And since I was a baby, Henry had been running out from his post by the door with an oversized umbrella to greet us when it rained. It didn't matter if we were carrying our own umbrellas.
- p. 12
- I glanced down at my Percy uniform, wondering if the administration knew the burgundy jackets and gray skirts we had to wear were the same colors that many doormen in the city had.
- p. 13
- I had been staring at my program card, trying to figure out where room 301 or something was—looking from the program card to the numbers on the doors and I had run right into him, my math and science textbooks crashing to the floor. Then he was apologizing and I was apologizing and we were both bending at the same time to retrieve them. And then—we just stopped and burst out laughing.
- p. 13-14
- I couldn't stop looking at him, at his smile and his hair.
- p. 14
- From my room, I could lie across my bed and watch the cars rush along Central Park West. In a hurry to get someplace. Everyone in New York is in a hurry. You see businessmen walking fast, their heads bowed, the cuffs of their pants flapping hard against their ankles. They don't look at anyone. Once I followed this man, walking so close behind him I could have been his daughter—but he never even looked over and noticed me. For two blocks I walked like that beside him. It made me sad for him—that he could walk through this world without looking left or right.
- p. 15-16
- Jeremiah. Who did he go home to? Would he remember me? Had he seen it too, whatever it was that I saw when we looked at each other? What was it?
- p. 17
- Marion laughed. She pulled a chicken-covered with rosemary and lemon slices from the oven.
"Smells good, Marion."
"Stop calling me Marion."
"Stop calling me Elisha."
"That's your name."
"And Marion's yours." I smiled, pulling a sprig of rosemary from the chicken. It had been going on like this for years. She refused to call me Ellie, so I refused to call her Mom.
- p. 19-20
- He 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.
- She was pretty—his mama was. He'd always thought so. She wore her hair short, tied her hair up in pretty scarves. Tonight she was wearing an orange and yellow one, wrapped high like a turban. Her skin was dark like his and smooth. People said they had the same mouth—wide and soft. And the same eyes. His eyes were light brown like hers and people were always asking them if they wore contact lenses.
- He missed his grandmother more than anything. In February, it would be five years since she passed. Jeremiah twirled the saltshaker absently wondering how long it took before you stopped missing someone.
- Jeremiah watched her dance a hot loaf of bread from the oven to the table and wondered again how his father could have just fallen for someone else. Yeah, over and over, his father had tried to explain it to him, and each time Jeremiah thought he finally understood. But then he'd come home some evening and find his mother sitting in front of the television in the empty living room and his heart would tighten inside his chest. She looked lonely and lost sitting in the half-light.
- If this. If that. Would his life always be filled with "ifs"?
- He pushed the plate of spaghetti away. He wasn't hungry anymore. Just tired. Tired of everything. Sometimes he wanted to scream—just stand in the middle of the street and holler.
- Change is a good thing, his grandma used to say. Think of it like seasons. You don't want to stay one way all your life and have moss grow under your toes.
- p. 65
- He could hear someone laughing. It sounded like the whole world—pointing at him … and laughing.
- p. 66
- I used to think it didn't matter—that everyone in this world had the same chance, the same fight. Imagine two babies born—one white, one black. Maybe their mothers shared the same hospital room and talked low—when all the excited visitors were gone and the hospital was heavy with sleep—about their futures. Talked about their dreams for the babies, long after the two A.M. feeding was over. I used to think that all those babies needed was some kind of chance—and a mother's dream for them. I was so … so silly back then. Naive. I believed stuff like that. Just because no one in this family had ever said a hateful thing about black people.
- p. 69-70
- "All people," Marion was often saying. "All people have suffered. So why should any of us feel like we're better or less than another?"
- p. 70
- But where were they then--these black people who were just like us--who were equal to us? Why weren't they coming over for dinner? Why weren't they playing golf with Daddy on Saturdays or quilting with Marion on Thursdays nights? Why weren't they in our world, around us, a part of us?
- p. 70
- He found himself watching her when she wan't looking. Watching the way she used her hand to move her hair out of her face, slowly, wrapping her fingers around it and pulling it back behind her ear. The way she leaned over her notebook to write, a tiny frown between her eyebrows. And her smile—she had a sweet smile. Sweet and sad and something else too. He couldn't explain it. If anyone asked, he wouldn't be able to put into words to how he felt when Ellie looked at him and smiled. He felt something stop and start inside of him.
- p. 78-79
- He pulled his knapsack off his shoulders and stared up at the sky. It was beautiful today, all warm and gold. The leaves had begun to change, and the trees up and down the block cast pretty shadows over everything. He loved October. Had always loved it. There was something sad and beautiful about it—the ending and beginning of things.
- p. 84
- "I don't know." He looked up at his father's window. "Sometimes I feel like I don't know nothing about nothing."
- p. 88
- "Not reasons—excuses, I guess. We don't want our baby leaving the nest just yet. It makes us feel old." He stood up, reached over, and touched my cheek. "It reminds us that one day this house will be empty—no children, just two ancient people padding through it looking at pictures."
- p. 95
- Each day seemed to crawl slowly into the next and the next, and some nights I couldn't sleep with the excitement of a new day—and another chance to see Jeremiah. Maybe this was what love felt like.
- p. 96
- Maybe this was what love felt like. I turned the empty orange juice glass around in my hand. Was it lying that I didn't tell him Jeremiah was black? Why should that matter? Why did any of it matter?
- p. 96
- He wanted more than that too—somebody deep. Somebody that could know him—know all of him—the crazy things he dreamed on stormy nights, when he woke with tears in his eyes and pulled the covers tight around him.
- p. 100
- "I could see it. In your eyes. How scared you are. You've got the kind of eyes that don't hide anything."
- p. 104, Jeremiah speaking
- "What's gonna happen is gonna happen. I mean, the feeling's still there even if you're covering it up."
- p. 105, Jeremiah speaking
- When Anne used to talk about being in love, she said it felt like someone wrapping you inside of them. And that's what I felt like now, like slowly I was being wrapped inside of Miah—inside his eyes, inside his voice, inside the way he talked about things.
- p. 105
- Two old women, walking arm in arm, eyes us. Jeremiah frowned, glaring at them.
"Are you all right?" one of the women asked me. I nodded. "Biddies," Jeremiah said under his breath. He started walking faster.
- p. 106
- "They asked that `cause you're with me,you know," he said, eyeing me. He looked hurt and angry all at once. "If you were with a white boy, they probably would have just smiled and kept on going."
- p. 106
- He wanted to go up to his room, lie on his bed, and think about Ellie. About today in the park. About the way her lips felt against his. Different. The same. Right. And his hand over hers—the brown and the white, her tiny fingers, the silver band on her thumb, her eyes, the way they just kept on looking and looking deeper and deeper inside of him. No one had ever looked at him like that, like they wanted to know every single thing about him. Like everything he had to say mattered. Really mattered.
- p. 114 to 115
- No one at Percy said anything. It was strange the way the students seemed to turn away from it, from him and Ellie holding hands on the Percy stairs. From his arm around Ellie's shoulder as they walked through the halls. Turn away from them kissing outside their classrooms. Sometimes Miah imagined their turning away in slow motion—the eyes cast downward, the heads moving slowly above the collars of the Percy uniforms.
- p. 123
- When I was little, Anne used to talk to me all the time about love. She said sometimes it happened slowly, an investment of work and time over months and years. She said that kind of love was sort of like the stock market—you put all of yourself into it and hope for a decent return. She said there were other kinds too—the quick-fix binge love—when a person bounced from person to person without taking a bit of time out to examine what went wrong with the last one.
"And then there's Marion-Edward love," she said once, sitting across from me, her fingers against her mouth the way they always were when she was thinking. "When a person thinks they know someone and then boom—one day she just up and leaves. Thing is knowing and loving are different."
- p. 126-127
- "And sometimes," Anne said softly, "there's just plain love Ellie. No reason for it, no need to explain."
Then she leaned back on the couch, crossed her ankle over her knee, and grinned. "Perfect love," she said.
"And what's that like?"
"When you'll find it, lil sis. You'll know."
- p. 127-128
- Some mornings, there is only this in the world—Jeremiah's hand reaching for my own. There isn't Marion's warning about time making changes we can't ever anticipate. Only Miah's hand in mine and a voice much louder than Marion's—my own—saying, Take this moment and run, Ellie.
- p. 128
- She made him feel all right. Everytime she smiled or kissed him or called his name in the hallway, he felt it. That everything everywhere was going to be all right.
- p. 130
- "You know something? That first time when we were sitting in Central Park talking—and then you cut that Snickers bar in half and handed me that piece—I was thinking this is what I've waited forever for—you know—somebody I could talk to, somebody who got it the way you get me. And there you were, not even a foot away from me, listening and sharing your candy."
- p. 132-133, Elisha speaking
- "Maybe you think you have all the answers now because of that boy, but you don't. You'll see how your life turns around on you and sets you down in some strange other place."
- p. 139, Marion speaking
- "Last Saturday, after they left the library, he and Ellie had been walking alone Fifth Avenue holding hands when these white boys started acting stupid--saying stuff like "jungle fever" and "who turned out the lights?" Miah had clenched his jaw and held tighter to Ellie's hand. Walk through the rain, Ellie had said.
- Sometimes he had a feeling deep, like there were certain people he'd never see again.
- p. 146
- "I used to think my family would accept anybody," I said slowly. "No matter what color they were. i'm not so sure of that now." I looked at him and swallowed. "It scares me. I mean, a part of me doesn't want to find out."
- p. 163
- "Times like that, I hate white people. Then I have to ask myself, How can I hate white people and love you?" He smiled. "And I don't know how to answer that."
- p. 164
- Marion and my father had been right—Percy Academy did get me into a good college. When the letter came, Marion held it up proudly. "A thick envelope," she said. "You know what that means." Yes, I knew what it meant. All spring the envelopes had been coming—thin ones meant one-page rejections. Thick ones meant acceptances and more paperwork.
- p. 178
- I think only once in your life do you find someone that you say, "Hey, this is the person I want to spend the rest of my time on this earth with." And if you miss it, or walk away from it, or even maybe, blink—it's gone.
- p. 179
- This is how the time moves—an hour here, a day somewhere, and then and then it's night and then it's morning. A clock ticking on a shelf. A small child running to school, a father coming home.
Time moves over us and past us, and the feeling of lips pressed against lips fades into memory. A picture yellows at its edges. A phone rings in its empty room.
- p. 180
- Time comes to us softly, slowly. It sits besides us for a while.
Then, long before we are ready, it moves on.
- p. 181 (closing words)
- Woodson, Jacqueline (1998). If You Come Softly (3rd ed.). New York: Puffin Books.