Novel: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan | Goodreads
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown (Hachette)
Emily Bell believes in destiny. To her, being forced to sing a solo in the church choir–despite her average voice–is fate: because it’s while she’s singing that she first sees Sam. At first sight, they are connected.
Sam Border wishes he could escape, but there’s nowhere for him to run. He and his little brother, Riddle, have spent their entire lives constantly uprooted by their unstable father. That is, until Sam sees Emily. That’s when everything changes.
As Sam and Riddle are welcomed into the Bells’ lives, they witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they’re left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they’ll ever find a place where they can belong. Beautifully written and emotionally profound, I’ll Be There is a gripping story that explores the complexities of teenage passions, friendships, and loyalties.
I was amazed by this one. Granted, it’s one that took me a long time to get through (give or take two years – I’ve picked it up and put it down multiple times), but when I sat down to read it through once and for all, I was blown away.
It’s hard to find anything really, truly original nowadays. Everything feels like a great version of another great thing, especially in the context of YA literature. We know what sells; we can’t help our subconscious drift towards successful tropes and ideas, writing about things we know. So when I stumble upon a book that feels different, I grab it. That quality’s what made me so emotionally attached to Jellicoe Road, what made me cry over Anatomy of a Misfit. These stories matter. Honestly, I should have read it earlier if only for the fact that it’s compared to Dreamland Social Club, one of my favorite books.
The story starts when Sam Border goes to church. He’s a musically-oriented teen guy, and no matter where his paranoid father drags him and his challenged younger brother, he knows there’ll be a church nearby, which means organ music on Sunday. But when he witnesses a nervous girl butchering a solo, he gets up to help her and sets a whole domino effect in action. Emily Bell, meanwhile, didn’t inherit her father’s musical talent. And she has no idea who the guy who helped her is, but she wants to. She asks around, and nobody knows him. When she stumbles upon him a few weeks later, she runs after him. And they talk.
Those simple gestures lead to a place for Sam and Riddle at the dinner table, a family they’ve never been privy to. The Bells take in the boys as if they’re their own children, but soon they get too used to the comfort. Clarence – their thief of a father – destroys any chance they have of happiness there, and they’re off to town-hop again. But Clarence is tired of dealing with the boys, so he decides to try and get rid of them once and for all.
Meanwhile, Emily’s devastated. She’s dealing with her mother, mourning the loss of Riddle, and Bobby, the investigative boy obsessed with negating the affection she has for Sam. What starts out as two perspectives (Sam and Emily) ripples into other perspectives as more characters are introduced, and start working on the real story of the Border boys.
First off, I enjoyed the main characters immensely. Holly Goldberg Sloan doesn’t rely as much on introspection, and there’s hardly any dialogue, but the storylike atmosphere gave each narrator a place that worked nicely within I’ll Be There. Instead of being familiar with the characters, I felt as if I were somewhere faraway, watching their story without any sense of intimacy. However, I still felt connected to them – never distant. I grew to like Emily more than I did at first, and Sam was both loyal and reserved.
Their relative traits gave them this “old soul” feel that captivated me, especially as I saw the way they interacted with their families and people around them. Seeing how they affected even the smallest people they came in touch with was humbling, and their families were intertwined in ways that got to me. Like Sam’s relationship with his brother, Riddle? That was something special. (Side note: I LOVED Riddle.)
What’s more, I loved seeing different secondary characters’ subplots intertwine, even with the smallest of characters that are mostly irrelevant to the plot. The short, integrated chapters and insights lent it a cozy feel that lent us a general impression of a few different people, and I appreciated seeing the little world that was created within the narrative. It was engrossing, and the bite-size explanations of each story’s relevance made it easy to read.
Despite the simplistic writing, the phrases conveyed a sense of deeper emotion that made them much more conducive to longing, something that gripped me throughout the book. Emily would say one sentence about the moon and it’d somehow relay the same fierce wonder I’d feel in very few words. That power behind this easy language made the book both affecting and a nice read. It’s not too complex but it’s still just as powerful.
This book is warm, but also breathtaking. It toes the line between devastating and wonderful, without making me feel worn out by the end. It’s a book that was really pleasant for me to read, and lyrical. Poignant, perhaps.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I recommend it to many people. I recommend it to Jellicoe fans, sure, but I do know a lot of people might get bored by the storyline; additionally, the third-person perspective that favors telling instead of showing might be a turn-off. But I enjoyed those, and I thought they served the story’s purpose well. It’s unique, which sometimes doesn’t work for people. But if it sounds up your alley, go for it! It’s phenomenal.