I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: I’ll Be There

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Published: May 17th, 2011

Number of Pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Raised by an unstable father who keeps the family constantly on the move, Sam Border hasn’t been in a classroom since the second grade. He’s always been the rock for his younger brother Riddle, who stopped speaking long ago and instead makes sense of the world through his strange and intricate drawings. It’s said that the two boys speak with one voice–and that voice is Sam’s.

Then, Sam meets Emily Bell, and everything changes. The two share an immediate and intense attraction, and soon Sam and Riddle find themselves welcomed into the Bell’s home. Faced with normalcy for the first time, they know it’s too good to last.

Told from multiple perspectives, Holly Goldberg Sloan’s debut novel offers readers fresh voices and a gripping story, with vivid glimpses into the lives of many unique characters. Beautifully written and emotionally profound, I’ll Be There is a story about connections both big and small, and deftly explores the many ways that our lives are woven together. [From Goodreads]

Quote:

She could not really sing.

That was just a fact.

But it was also a fact that she was riveting. She was raw and exposed and not really hitting the notes right. But she was singing to him.

Why him?

He wasn’t imagining it.

The girl with the long brown hair had her small hands held tight at her sides and, maybe because of how bad she was, or because she was staring right at him and seemed to be singing right to him, he couldn’t look away.

She was saying she’d be there.

But no one was ever there. That’s the way it was. Who was she to tell him such a thing?

It was intimate and suddenly painful.

Not just for her.

But now for him.

Very painful.

Review:

I’ll Be There is definitely an unconventional YA novel. It takes many risks with its oddly sparse dialogue and very character-driven plot, but – at least in my case – they pay off.

Sam is such an endearing character. I’m inclined to call him the main character, but I feel like I might be cheating a few others out of the title. Either way, he’s a focal point, and he deserves to be. He’s very complex in a subtle, quiet sort of way, and I think that’s just, well, adorable. Not to mention the fact that I love it when characters are passionate about something, particularly when their life is generally rather drab. That something gives them the pleasure, lightness, and hope that the rest of their life fails to provide. In Sam’s case, the something is music. His appreciation for it is catching.

That passion takes on a slightly different role when Sam meets Emily. The way they meet and the initial connection they make is so stinkin’ cute! Seriously – anyone would probably fall for it. But though I thought Emily was a splendid girl and all, I didn’t adore her quite like Sam did. She’s sweet and good (not overwhelmingly so), and I think we’d be friends if we met, but in comparison to Sam and his brother, Riddle, her internal light was a little dimmer.

Please excuse the extensive character analyses. Like I said, this book is carried by its characters, so they’re naturally the focus of this review, too. Anyway…

Riddle! How intriguing is this little guy? Immediately, you’d tag him as different. He may even come off as having some sort of mental disability. However, it becomes clearer throughout the novel that he is bright and absolutely seeping with potential. He, like his brother, has a passion – sketching the intricate parts that make things work. Just things. He’s not interested in anything specifically. He grabs his handy dandy phone book and starts doodling on its pages. I would have loved to learn more about him, but alas, the book’s already pretty long!

Both Sam’s and Riddle’s interests are both natural passions/hobbies and coping mechanisms. They’ve been living a life deprived of love, compassion, and tolerance. They don’t have the basic essentials, like a comfortable home and education. Sam was taken out of school after second grade, and I’m not sure if Riddle ever went (I read this a while ago. Can you tell?). Their mother is gone, and their father is a schizophrenic with some anger issues. Needless to say, they have a dysfunctional family, and this is one of the major reasons they start to spend more and more time with Emily’s family.

As the story develops, tension sizzles between Emily’s parents and Sam, and then between Sam’s father and Emily’s family, and, finally, between Sam’s father and Sam and Riddle. I was surprised by how dramatic the climax was due to the fact that the events leading up to it were pretty mellow. I have to admit that I’ll Be There requires a little suspension of disbelief. The whole situation is a long-shot. All the more reason to enjoy it while you can, right?

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s choice of narration is quite interesting. She alternates between points of view, but that’s relatively common. It was the general lack of dialogue that surprised me. There’s usually a lot of dialogue in young adult novels. (Probably because some totally crazy people skip over everything else.) The characters, naturally, spoke to each other often, but the author chose to relate this to the reader in ways that didn’t require dialogue – without quotation marks and the he saids/she saids. Though this caught me off guard at the beginning, I swiftly grew accustomed to it and must admit that the book benefited from this style. The prose, structure, and style of the narration flattered the story and characters perfectly.

Ultimately, I’ll Be There is a super endearing and intriguingly odd book that wrenched my heart strings often enough to keep me rapidly flipping the pages. I recommend it to anyone looking for a different sort of reading experience that is cute, soft, adorable, and also strangely dark. Like I said before, some suspension of disbelief is required in order to enjoy it, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

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