Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Sam Border wishes he could escape. Raised by an unstable father, he’s spent his life moving from place to place. But he could never abandon his little brother, Riddle.

Riddle Border doesn’t talk much. Instead, he draws pictures of the insides of things and waits for the day when the outsides of things will make sense. He worships his older brother. But how can they leave when there’s nowhere to go? Then everything changes. Because Sam meets Emily.

Emily Bell believes in destiny. She sings for her church choir, though she doesn’t have a particularly good voice. Nothing, she feels, is mere coincidence. And she’s singing at the moment she first meets Sam.

Everyone whose path you cross in life has the power to change you — sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in ways greater than you could have ever known.

So I went into the library last week with the intention of picking up just one book in order to write up a blurb for one of my reading lists (yeah, right, like that was ever going to happen). Of course, then I remembered that I had been wanting to re-read Saving Francesca for the millionth time because I was on a Melina Marchetta roll after re-reading both Jellicoe Road and The Piper’s Son (which made me want to start the whole vicious cycle over again — I swear, I need to join re-readers anonymous). Then, I happened to spy Chime and realized I simply had to take it home with me for the third time since May. And while I was doing my annual browse of the new books shelf, I came across this book, I’ll Be There. I don’t even know what possessed me to pick it up, as the spine design doesn’t really do much to grab one’s attention, but I decided to give it a go. When I finally left the library with too many books than was perhaps healthy (seriously, thank goodness for automatic doors and the kindness of strangers, otherwise I would have made a fool of myself before I reached my car), I will admit that I’ll Be There slipped to the bottom of my TBR list until, on a whim, I decided to bring it with me to work today.

Boy, am I glad I took a chance on this book.

This is one of those sweet, feel-good books that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you believe in the beauty pageant sentiment that everyone in the world should have a puppy. I literally awwwwed at the ending. Normally, I hate books like that (mostly because I like to pretend that my heart does not have any strings on which to tug — no, that was not a tear, thank you very much, it’s just allergies), because endings that tie up in neat little bows don’t seem very realistic and they so rarely happen in real life. You know what though? I just couldn’t be bothered to care. Blame it on entirely too many viewings of Pride and Prejudice during my undergrad years, but sometimes you just want to escape to a world where the Lizzies and the Janes are guaranteed their happy ending and the rotten Miss Caroline Bingleys get the cold, lonely fate that they so justly deserve. I never wanted this so much for a bunch of characters as I did for this trio. All three of them became so precious to me that I just wanted to reach right into the book and give them each a hug and tell them it would be all right (especially Riddle — darnit, that kid just broke my heart).

That’s not to say that this is one of those gooey, sentimental, sugary sweet books that will leave one rolling their eyes and gagging. In Emily, Sam and Riddle, she’s lovingly crafted a set of characters who are faced with very real, very serious situations, and they don’t come away unscathed. This is a story of survival, that of broken homes and broken hearts and the elements, but it’s also a lovely story of the salvation we can offer others simply by showing that we’ll be there for them and that we care. 

Though I generally feel distanced from characters when the author decides to write in third-person, Sloan did a masterful job of placing me right in the midst of things, making me experience and understand exactlywhat these characters were feeling, without once having it seem as if my emotions were being manipulated. This book was also about the connections Sam and Riddle and Emily made with other people, both significant and seemingly minor, positive and negative, so readers needed the opportunity to  hear from the whole cast of characters in order to truly see how each life was changed. In the hands of some authors, this might start to resemble bad fanfiction — one of those ‘do we really need to hear from so-and-so’s best friend’s brother’s nephew’s barber?’ sort of situations, but Sloan is justified in every perspective change. Even when we heard from the bear (strangelyenough, that worked).

One of my few complaints with this book is that at times several of the minor characters were not as fully-realized as I would like them to have been. Bobby Ellis, in particular, seemed slightly like a one-dimensional, cardboard cutout, whose sole purpose in the book was to provide an unbelievable foil to Sam in Emily’s life. He was  a bit of a creeper (okay, more than a bit), but the things he got up to on his day from hell* amused me too much for me to ever be properly bothered.

Bottom-line is, I don’t think you’ll regret giving I’ll Be There a shot. It might not be a perfect book, but I’ll bet you’ll be able to overlook the flaws as I did. You might not even be bothered by the fact that that darn Jackson Five song is stuck in your head.**


*Seriously, if someone named Olga  wants to give you a facial, just run the other way. And spray-tans are never a good idea. Ever.

**Sing it with me now! Just call my name, and I’ll be there . . .


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This entry was posted on July 14, 2011 by in Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction and tagged .
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