I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Target Audience: Young adult
Keywords: Young love, child neglect, family, music
Source: Hardcover borrowed from library
Summary: The first day Sam sees Emily she is (badly) singing “I’ll Be There” in front of her church. The words stir something inside of Sam and both of them feel it. After Sam abruptly disappears, Emily can’t stop thinking about him and one night, they are brought together once again. Emily knows that he is thoughtful and a good listener, different than another of the boys she knew, but what she doesn’t know is that he doesn’t go to school, his father has abducted him and his brother, and the chances of him sticking around are not likely…
Every now and then I come across a book that reminds me of young adult books I read in grade school — not a ton of dialogue, filled with a bit of adventure, maybe a small love story. Even the writing style, full of clear, succinct sentences that move at a steady pace and mean a whole lot. With I’ll Be There I was reminded (once again) of Louis Sachar’s Holes and another all-time favorite, Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Both books deal with families, various trials, and almost come together with a fairy tale like quality.
Emily and Sam come from completely different worlds. Emily has a mom, dad, brother, and a dog. Sam has his brother, Riddle (who doesn’t talk much), a father (Clarence) who abducted them and steals to help himself survive. (Keyword: himself.) For as long as he can remember, Sam has been the one to take care of his brother, while both steer as clear from their father as possible. Sam and Riddle don’t go to school. Riddle draws in phone books and Sam tries to make some pocket change on the side so they can eat. It is absolutely heartbreaking how Clarence neglects his children. In fact, I’m shocked he didn’t leave them on the side of the road long ago.
You can see why Sam keeps his life a secret from Emily. He does a pretty good job of it too. He doesn’t answer a lot of questions, he meets her places, but her parents are concerned when they meet him and Riddle. They believe something isn’t right and when Clarence discovers the cell phone that the Bells give him… he knows they won’t be sticking around much longer.
The story certainly takes a turn from here. A slow and sweet romance between Sam and Emily, the affection the Bells have for Sam and Riddle, and the connection these boys finally have with someone come to a screeching halt and for the rest of the book, the reader is thrust into a suspenseful and frightening story. (I was so nervous I had to eat a snack on the way home to calm my nerves while reading.)
Sloan certainly nailed the feelings of a girl who has had her heart broken and hopes against all hope that Sam will come back to her. Even when she attempts to keep busy with Bobby — a self-righteous fella from her high school who is majorly crushing on her and will do just about anything to get her attention — and going about her life before Sam came into it. The change in her is so apparent. She feels entirely helpless and directionless, and loses her belief in love.
And as for the brothers… I have never read a pair quite like this. Sam has always been the caretaker and Riddle has a developmental disorder (that’s never been treated) yet they understand each other. They have each other’s backs in a way that all siblings should and it chokes me up just thinking about all they’ve been through and all the challenges they face for the remainder of the book. I was rooting for them the entire time.
One thing I loved about Sloan is how she presented a good amount of characters throughout the 400-page book and came back to every single one of them. There is not one storyline left unanswered. (One complaint though… all the descriptions talk about Emily’s awesome best friend when she is practically MIA for the whole book. She didn’t seem to fit into the super friend category at all.) It definitely showed how one moment can change a person, and affect a bunch of others without even meaning to. From the start to the very end, I felt incredibly invested in Emily, Riddle, and Sam and wanted them to find their own happiness, wanted good to triumph over evil.
I hope you’ll take the time to dive into this moving novel and find out.