Funny thing about male librarians: there aren’t a lot of us. You readers who’re already working in libraries know what I’m talking about, but it was kind of a shock for me the first time I took a class at library school and I was the only guy in the room. We’re kind of an endangered species.
Which is why I’ve started reading teen-girl romance novels. I figure, if I’m likely to be surrounded by women wherever I workâ€”which is not really a bad thingâ€”it’s probably a good idea to read some books that are supposedly â€œjust for girls.â€ (In fact, it’s a good idea in general to read something that’s outside your “comfort zone,” whatever that may be.) Join me in my explorations, won’t you?
Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly has been around for a whileâ€”it was published in 1998â€”but I only just found it, thanks to the recommendation of a well-read friend of mine. It’s not just a good romance, it’s a good book. To be honest, it’s changed my perception of what a love story could be. Jeremiah and Ellie both attend Percy Academy, one of New York City’s most prestigious schools. They meet when she bumps into him by accident and drops her books. He’s the son of a famous director and a famous novelistâ€”who have broken up and live on apartments on opposite sides of the same street. She’s the daughter of a doctorâ€”and a mother who left them, twice, only to come back both times. And he’s black, and she’s Jewish.
What I loved about this book was that it was partly about love, partly about race, and partly just about these two characters and the way they relate to the world around them. Jeremiah isn’t a spokesman for every young black man in the world, just for himself. Similarly, Ellie doesn’t speak for every Jewish girl. Neither of them is a stereotypeâ€”they are who they areâ€”but at the same time, he’s still black and she’s still Jewish, and a lot of people are uncomfortable with their relationship.
Woodson’s writing is light and deft, as soft and welcoming as a down jacket in winter. In fact, at times it’s a little too light: for all that Jeremiah and Ellie mention people giving them strange looks, we don’t actually see much of the prejudice they experience. I would’ve liked a few more tense confrontations or insensitive remarks, just to see how Miah and Ellie react.
Overall, it was a fantastic read, and like I said, it gave me a new appreciation for romance as a genre. See what hidden gems you can find by reading outside your â€œcomfort zoneâ€!
*In 2006 Jacqueline Woodson was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award for works including if you come softly.
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