Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (@hgoldbergsloan)

I'll Be There (I'll Be There #1) by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publication Date: May 17, 2011
Published: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

My Rating:

Emily Bell believes in destiny. To her, being forced to sing a solo in the church choir--despite her average voice--is fate: because it's while she's singing that she first sees Sam. At first sight, they are connected.
Sam Border wishes he could escape, but there's nowhere for him to run. He and his little brother, Riddle, have spent their entire lives constantly uprooted by their unstable father. That is, until Sam sees Emily. That's when everything changes.
As Sam and Riddle are welcomed into the Bells' lives, they witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they're left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they'll ever find a place where they can belong. Beautifully written and emotionally profound, I'll Be There is a gripping story that explores the complexities of teenage passions, friendships, and loyalties.

After reading the synopsis for Just Call My Name, the sequel to I’ll Be There, I requested the ARC and ran to pick up this title. Upon first glance I expected this book to be lighthearted and sweet, as so many teen romances are. However, while sweet it was, this was not a light read. The abundant emotion I felt while exploring Sam, Riddle, and Emily’s lives was not at all expected.

After being ripped from their home, Sam and Riddle have spent the last ten years moving from place to place with their unstable father, Clarence. You quickly learn that these boys taught themselves everything they know, which isn’t much. Each boy has adapted a skill and routine that seemingly helps them cope. Riddle draws, Sam visits churches for their musical selection. This is what leads him to Emily, an average teenage girl, who begrudgingly sings a solo in her choir the day Sam happens to stumble upon her church. The two connect immediately, leading us to learn about their respective families, both together and apart.

While, yes, this is an insta-love story, it also garners subjects fit for an audience exceeding its genre. That isn’t suggesting adults rush out and buy it. Unfortunately, the third person omniscient writing style reads a bit young. Within the pages of I’ll Be There you find a heart wrenching tale of emotional and physical child abuse. This, for me, was the most surprising aspect of the story. Sam and Riddle, I loved both of their characters, and as you see them live day in and day out in resigned fear and acceptance, it’s hard not to grow attached to these boys.

That said, I didn’t feel an attachment to much else. Sam and Emily’s love story held no real substance. They met, fell in love, tragedy occurred, Emily Bell was devastated. There was no build up. I wondered through the last half of the book how the Bells became so invested in the lives of Sam and Riddle, but never found an answer. In the end their bonds worked in the favor of everyone. I just wish the author had spent more time showing the construction of these relationships and less time on, what seemed to me, unnecessary detail.

Other than Sam, Emily, and their families, there were two handfuls of characters that because the author wrote in omniscient I learned more about than I really needed to, but it didn't take anything away from the story. In fact, I found those snippets more interesting than I typically would. Each person's life intertwined with the next. It's rare that we get a conclusion for secondary characters like this and I loved that she wrapped it up so neatly. Except for Bobby Ellis. I couldn't have cared less about what happened to him. If I never read anything more about Bobby Elllis it would still be too much. Due to him being such a spoiled snot I refuse to give this character any more attention. Just know, Clarence wasn't the only bad guy in this story.

I’ll Be There was heartbreaking and heart warming - a story meant to make you feel, and it succeeds. This could have stood as a standalone, but I'm excited to jump into Just Call My Name to find out what comes next for this group.

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