If You Come Softly

Sometimes when people read a book of mine and tell me it reminds them of some other book, especially if I have not read that book, I get in a snit. I am well aware that this reflects very poorly upon me. Please don’t judge.1 So when I was told that Liar was reminiscent of Jacqueline Woodson‘s If You Come Softly2 my first reaction was pursed lipped muttering to myself about the special petal-ness of Liar and how it’s not like any other book ever.3

But after the snit phase comes the getting curious phase. I grabbed a copy of Woodson’s If You Come Softly and read it on the plane back home to Sydney.

Wow. Just wow. I wept for about an hour after finishing. Actually, not true, I started weeping before I finished it. If You Come Softly is an exquisitely written, beautiful, deeply moving and heartfelt book. Much of it is set in areas of New York City that I have at least glancing familiarity with.4 Woodson gets it all right and does so astonishingly economically. This is one of those jewels of a book with nary a word out of place. Yes, beautiful writing makes me cry. I am a sap.

That anyone would even think of Softly in the same sentence as anything I’ve ever written is extremely flattering. I am even more ashamed of my snit fit.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the book except to say that it’s a love story. As long time readers of my blog will know I have a total paranoia about spoilers. I much prefer to know as little about a book going in as possible and I assume my readers feel the same.5 No spoiling it in the comments either!

If you haven’t already read Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly get hold of a copy immediately. It’s a wee slip of a book and won’t take you long to read but I guarantee that it will stay with you for a very long time. I plan to get hold of the sequel, Behind You, as soon as I can.

  1. Well, not too harshly. []
  2. And I’m very embarrassed by this but I can’t remember who told me. []
  3. Which is utter rubbish. Any book that was not like any other book ever would be completely unreadable. But like I said I get snitty. []
  4. I lived in Washington Heights for several months back in 2000-2001 and have friends in Fort Greene. []
  5. Despite all evidence to the contrary. []


  1. MissAttitude on #

    I must read this book! It’s been recommended to me so many times and now this post. I’m ashamed to say that I ignored Ms. woodson’s books because they were so small and I thought that an advanced reader shouldn’t read them (I thought this during my MG years). Ha no more!
    I’m heading to the library to get this book (actually as many of her books as I can find) as well as every Time A Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia.
    I hate crying though ๐Ÿ™

  2. Justine on #

    MissAttitude: I am a notorious sook. Many books make me weep. You’re most likely made of sterner stuff than me. I look forward to hearing what you think of Softly.

  3. annie on #

    if you come softly is one of my absolute favorite YA books. i think i read it back in middle school and it was really great book. one year, i attended the national book foundation’s summer writing camp and i attended a workshop jacqueline taught ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. rhapsodyinbooks on #

    I didn’t cry at the end. Rather, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I was just left gasping for air. But this is not to say don’t read it! I thought it was wonderful. But as Susan of Color Online said, Be prepared!!! (I just rechecked my review – it posts on the 14th, and I say “get the kleenex ready!!!”)

  5. susan on #


    Woodson’s number one fan here. lol I loved this book and like you, her ability to say so much in so few words impresses me greatly. And it isn’t just the economy of words, but the subtlety of her writing. She doesn’t bang you over the head with messages. A few readers have reviewed this title for Color Me Brown. I hope more readers will discover this gem.

    I know many readers who pass over Woodson because most of her books are slim and my first read by her was a middle grade book (and I focus on older YA) but the writing impressed me enough to look for more. For me, the size of the books was one of the reasons I continued to read her. I was looking for books that addressed serious issues for older but reluctant readers. I couldn’t suggest lighter and shorter fare intended for MG readers, but I also knew many of my girls were intimidated by thick volumes. Woodson provides the perfect mix for us.

  6. Jennifer Woodfin on #

    Um, it was me. Since you’ve only met me a couple of times in fannish contexts, you are totally forgiven for not remembering me.

    I sent email at the beginning of June (yours being one of the first books I read after Book Expo) squeeing over Liar and complaining that it had kept me up late.

    Toward the end I said,
    “I totally think that people should read LIAR back to back with Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly. There are a LOT of good discussions in that pairing.”

    I didn’t mean to make you cry!

    You’re welcome.

    Jennifer Woodfin
    General Manager
    Big Blue Marble Bookstore

  7. Julia Rios on #

    Thanks for the recommendation. I just got If You Come Softly from my library, and would have commented when I got home an hour ago, but I opened the book first just to read a page or two, just for a minute… You can see how well that worked.

  8. Justine on #

    Nif: Of course, it was you. Curse my hideously bad memory. I suck. Thank you so much for the recommendation. If You Come Softly is amazing.

  9. Shveta on #

    Just checked it out–and fell over a bookshelf in the process. (Don’t ask.) Ouch! Anyway, can’t wait to read it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Susan on #

    We just got If You Come Softly in my library this week–in fact I finished cataloguing it and shelved it this morning. I just hope it’s still on the shelf when I get to work tomorrow morning.

  11. Meredith on #

    If you thought If You Come Softly was sobworthy, oh my god. You’re going to seriously flip when you read Behind You. I almost cried, which sounds…uh? except that I very rarely cry when I read books, so it was a major event.

  12. Jacob Hernandez on #

    I agree with Meredith. Behind You was…wow.

    I haven’t read If You Come Softly yet, but I’m planning to soon. If it’s as good as Jacqueline Woodson’s other books–which I don’t doubt it is–I’m sure it’ll be excellent.

  13. Electric Landlady on #

    Weird coincidence: I was just down at the farmer’s market that happens in front of City Hall on Wednesdays, and the library was having a sale of castofs, and what did I see but If You Come Softly?

    So thanks to you, I bought it. 50 cents well spent. Thanks for the rec — I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise!

  14. Jaya Lakshmi on #

    I read this book four years ago, and it made me cry. What a tragedy.

  15. Amy @ My Friend Amy on #

    I also loved this book! Someone just pointed out this review to me because I reviewed the book today. I cried as well, but like you, yes, I cry quite frequently during books. ๐Ÿ™‚

    But I definitely recommend it!

  16. Jennifer Sheffield on #

    I think it’s hilarious that I should have gotten a book recommendation from Nif via your blog, Justine. The day after reading this I went up to her room after breakfast and found her copy… It’s quite a book. Thank you for posting about it.

    Jen (also of Big Blue Marble)

  17. lace on #

    don’t feel alone with the whole crying thing- books make me cry on an every day basis. Anoying sibling says its ’cause i can’t discern fantasy from reality. Still. i my World’s better this way.

  18. kych on #

    I dont get how Jaramiah died…

  19. MLE on #

    I believe this is a great book-Though some how when I always read a book someone always dies. Must be my luck- yet some how it makes me feel fortunate for what I have and that Iโ€™m here today. Yes the ending was abrupt but if you read in-between the lines- you could have guessed the ending. I believe the ending had a great moral-

    Some thing random- today I was looking on the Internet on books written by Jacqueline Woodson and I found a book called Lena- weird because I had an imaginary friend called Lenaโ€ฆ LoLโ€ฆ โ˜ป

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