Monday, May 9, 2011

Review - I'll Be There

Holly Goldberg Sloan
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Told in third person limited from the POVs of many characters both important and not-so-important, the story of I'll Be There is centered on what happens when Sam -- a teenage boy with a love for music but extremely unstable life thanks to his father's paranoid nature and criminal activities -- meets Emily Bell. Though not wealthy by any means, Emily's nuclear family is a stable and loving one. And, unlike Sam who quit attending school after the second grade, she's in high school. These two are brought together by music and though their connection is instant, it's based on more than just good looks.

I received this book at ALA as an ARC -- no cover, no plot blurb on the back. Just the title. Because of this I had no idea what to expect, but even after I started reading I wasn't expecting such an epic scope of story. The plot follows Emily and Sam's relationship as they grow closer, but also details Sam's family life -- his unstable and dangerous father, as well as his silent but artistic younger brother, Riddle. The most exciting part of the story comes when, as both Sam and Riddle become closer to Emily and her family, they're pulled away by their father only to end up in a situation much more dire and dangerous than the life of extreme poverty and neglect they were living before. This makes for an exciting, often nerve-wracking storyline (I really couldn't put the book down until I knew how it all ended), but there's a very different feel to this book than many books with similar plots.

The main thing here is that a lot of this book is written as a series of short vignettes from many different POVs. It's a beautiful, almost lyrical style of writing without many scenes in the typical sense of the word -- dialogue is kept to a minimum and even much of the "action" is internal. The book is carried on the backs of the character's thoughts and feelings. Because of this writing style, the story moves slowly even at its most action-packed points. With the right sort of story to accompany it, this writing style can be extremely effective in my opinion. And this was definitely the right story. Though it often feels difficult to get to know the personalities of the characters, their feelings are easily accessible and it's really the relationships here -- between Sam and Emily and then Sam and Riddle especially -- that are the backbone of this book. The novel explores the theme of being connected in such a brilliant way that in the end if I didn't feel like I really knew Sam or Emily it was okay. Because I knew Sam and Emily together, and this was the important thing.

I'd love to recommend this beautiful book to everybody, but I know there are some who won't like the very internal, literary, emotion-driven writing style. But I will say this: go pick up the book. At your bookstore, library, whatever. Give it a try, see if you like it, and I really (really) hope you do. If you've read and enjoyed Lynne Rae Perkin's Criss Cross I think you'll especially love it.


  1. Sounds exactly my kind of book, I love novels about connections and relationships. Thanks for the beautiful review, I'll add it to my TBR list.

  2. Alexa
    Oh, I hope you read it! I really think you'd love this one!

  3. Im so with Alexa here, sounds like my type of book. It's one I haven't heard much about, but reading your review makes me want to go out and buy it right now! =)

  4. I loved this story and am linking to your great review.