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Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson

Behind You

by Jacqueline Woodson

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After fifteen-year-old Jeremiah is mistakenly shot by police, the people who love him struggle to cope with their loss as they recall his life and death, unaware that 'Miah is watching over them.
  chandlerfarris | Oct 6, 2016 |
Any words to describe this amazing author would be trite and corny. Suffice it to say, she is one worth reading. Few can deal with intense subjects and yet not succumb to over drama and embellishment.

While this is a companion to If You Come Softly, a book I haven't read, there was no difficulty following the story.

Well deserving of the Coretta Scott King award, in this small, but powerful book, Woodson tackles the topics of interracial relationships, grief, sorrow and a young black man killed in a case of mistaken identity by NYC police. Woodson's writing is stunningly beautiful and gripping while packing a soft punch that leaves the reader softly sighing..."Oh!"

As Miah passes on, he is challenged to watch those who loved him as they grieve. Told from various perspectives of Miah's mother, his father, his girlfriend and best friend, all of whom are experiencing intense sorrow, Woodson has the ability to switch characters and feelings very smoothly. Many other authors cannot do this as well as she can.

Highly recommended! ( )
1 vote Whisper1 | Jan 2, 2012 |
When you read a book by Jacqueline Woodson, you are filled with questions:

How can anyone fill so few pages with so much emotional depth and breadth?

How can she switch so seamlessly between characters who are male and female, and white and black, and seem to get them all so right?

Does Woodson own stock in Kleenex, and if not, is she missing a true chance at fortune?

Behind You is the sequel to the YA book If You Come Softly, but Woodson fills in enough background so that you do not have to read one to read the other (although why read one Woodson book when you can read two?) (But stop right here if you intend to read If You Come Softly, because the entire book of Behind You will be a spoiler!)

In the first book, black teenager Jeremiah Roselind was shot and killed in error by white policemen. He left behind his mother Nelia, his father Norman, his friends Carlton and Kennedy, and the love of his young life, the white girl Ellie.

This short book is divided into two sections: "The Ending" and "The Healing," and each chapter alternates voices among both the dead and the living.

Woodson has a way of capturing so much in such a succinct way. In a brilliant vignette, here is Kennedy, sitting on the steps of the private school that he attends (along with Ellie and with Miah, before he was killed):

"Tuesday morning. I sat on the Percy stairs counting faces – white, white, white, white, white, Asian, Asian, white, black – Yo, what’s up! (slap hands) – white, white, white, mixed kid – smiled at me, he’s cool – white, white….”

And then there is the beauty and love that unexpectedly softens the edges of death. Jeremiah:

"When I sit down beside my mother, she shivers. When I touch Ellie’s shoulders, she smiles like she knows it’s me. Maybe she does. Who could have told me that the wind was some passed-on soul stopping to touch your face, your hands, your hair. Who knew a surprising cool breeze was someone who had gone before you, saying, ‘You’re loved.’”

When the book begins, Ellie’s despondency reminds one of nothing so much as W.H. Auden’s song of desperation:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good."

But as time goes on, Ellie finally starts to heal, not away from the memory of Miah, but with it. She says:

"You go days without remembering and then for days you can’t forget. But your smile comes more often. And the world seems to open its arms to you. ... You laugh with Carlton. You have long, deep conversations with Nelia, you begin to talk more wth Kennedy – whose smile, when it comes, is like a small gift. ... You sit some mornings and think about what those who leave us leave behind – this … this potential for a new life … a dfferent life. This gift of a future that we never imagined, filled with people we might have otherwise overlooked.”

It is Jeremiah who has the last word in this book, but I won’t spoil it for you. Go to the store, load up on Kleenex, then get this book. Even though the subject is somber, you won’t be sorry one bit. ( )
  nbmars | Mar 5, 2010 |
Told from varying viewpoints of the different characters, Woodson allows the reader to connect with how each individual is dealing and coping with the death of a son, friend, and boyfriend. As the story progresses, one will be able to understand and cope with the characters and how they handle death. This is a great book to suggest to someone who has suffered loss, and needs guidance and understanding to answer the question, why. ( )
  rampeygirl | Sep 21, 2008 |
Spoiler: this is the sequel to Woodson's tragic tale of inter-racial romance If You Come Softly. That book ends with the main character, Jeremiah, shot dead by New York City police, in a case of mistaken identity. Jeremiah is back here telling the story from the great beyond, similar to The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and After Life by Gary Soto. Yet Jeremiah's is not the only voice, as his friends and relatives also reveal their sorrow. The book isn't plot heavy, instead focusing on the struggles of each character to get beyond their loss, and back to themselves, or in Jeremiah's case, to start on his new existence. Woodson's language is poetic, her images powerful, and her themes challenging. Listen to Springsteen's "Missing You" from The Rising as a companion about how people find a reason to believe, and live their lives, after a tragic death. Review originally appeared in Novelist. ( )
  chairshotxl | Oct 26, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142403903, Paperback)

Even though Miah was black and Ellie is white, they made sense together. Then Miah was killed. It was the end of their relationship, but it was the beginning of grief for the many people who loved him. Now Miah’s mother has stopped trying, his friends are lost, and Ellie does not know how to move on. And then there is Miah, watching; unable to let go. This beautiful novel explores the experiences of those left behind after a tragedy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:41 -0400)

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After fifteen-year-old Jeremiah is mistakenly shot by police, the people who love him struggle to cope with their loss as they recall his life and death, unaware that 'Miah is watching over them.

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