I’ll Be There

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 sees 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.

Here’s the scoop: Emily has been chosen to sing a solo in church on Sunday.  She’s so nervous she feels ill, so as she heads to the front of the choir she focuses on the back row of the church.

Sam wanders into church that morning mostly hoping for free doughnuts.  He’s always hungry, having spent most of his life virtually homeless and wandering with his little brother, Riddle, and his mentally unstable father–a small-time thief whose lack of interest in his children is disturbing. The only human connection Sam has is Riddle.  He survives each day to care for his shy, withdrawn younger sibling.

Neither Emily nor Sam expect anything phenomenal to happen in church that morning— until Emily’s eyes lock with Sam’s.  As the words to “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5 awkwardly spill from her mouth, these two strangers are instantly connected in a deep, spiritual way that neither can explain.

Forgive me if I gush a bit, but I felt that I’ll Be There was perfect in every way. I loved it.  And whoa mama, Sam is so swoony in that effortless I-have-no-idea-I’m-hot kind of way.  His love for Riddle  is so real that I felt like I could reach out and touch it (I don’t even know if that makes sense) and his chemistry with Emily is TO DIE FOR.  This is not a sexy, kissing book and yet the pure, magnetic way that these two are drawn together is pretty romantic.  I loved these characters and their story so much, I can barely put it into words (except the boy’s father. I wanted to see him eaten by a lion, or at the very least, thrown in jail for what a failure he was as a father and as a member of the human race).

Holly Goldberg Sloan has created characters with such heart and depth that I felt completely emotionally connected to each of them.  It was painful to see the sad life of abuse and neglect that the boys come from; wandering from town to town, living in fear and without education and often without even the most basic of their needs being met.  It’s the polar opposite of Emily’s happy, ideal existence and yet she and Sam have something—that certain undefinable thing that links them as human beings.  And beyond Emily and Sam, the author explores many relationships in this story, including Riddle and Sam (oh so heartbreaking) and the boys with Emily’s family (as they experience a loving family environment for the first time), raising good questions about what it is that bonds us to the ones we love. While ultimately this book explores how humans both physically and emotionally survive the tests they’re thrown up against, it’s about love in all forms.

Crush Intensity: 5/5 One of my favorites this year. Read it, please, please, please.  I learned of this one from the gushing of two other blogs I love: Forever Young Adult (you can see their review here) and Gayle Forman (you can see her interview with Holly Goldberg Sloan here and let me just spoil it for you: OMG she’s working on a continuation of this story! I may die from happiness).

Soundtrack: Was there any question?  “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5.