Jacqueline Woodson has had a remarkable career. A 2020 MacArthur “Genius Grant” honoree with a National Book Award, five NAACP Image Awards and four Newbery Medals, she has spent the past three decades publishing celebrated literary fiction, poetry and, most famously, a wide variety of books for children and teens. If You Come Softly, a Romeo-and-Juliet variation published in 1998 and set in New York City, is a particular highlight of her young-adult output. Fifteen-year-old protagonist Jeremiah, a gifted Black boy from Brooklyn, feels painfully out of place as a new student at a posh Manhattan prep school. That is, until he finds love at first sight with a white, Jewish classmate named Ellie. Woodson infuses their romance with the emotional urgency that defines her work and a prescient sense of social justice, zooming in on topics such as white privilege and police violence against Black youth. If You Come Softly helped paved the way for a new generation of politically aware, best-selling YA books from authors like Angie Thomas and Tomi Adeyemi. —Judy Berman

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