Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan


I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Pages: 400
Publisher: Little, Brown
Published: May 17th, 2011
IBSN: 9780316122795

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.

Sam and his younger brother Riddle live under the care of their unstable criminal father, constantly moving out of his paranoia. Drawn to music, Sam one day finds himself in the back pew of a church, transfixed by the off-key solo of Emily Bell, who's given him more incentive to stay than he's ever had.

Let's begin with: I'll Be There is one of the most charming books I've ever read.

The tone of I'll Be There pretty accurately represented what it was all about. All throughout these undeservedly terrible situations, there's a hopeful undertone giving comfort. Hope carries in the promise from the very beginning "I'll be there", in the way our characters never  delve into self-pity, in the soft, young quality to the prose.

Sloan's writing style is spare and beautiful and perfectly captures the emotions behind each of the characters and pulls off third person narration with deeply personal voices. A whole range of characters -- from smarmy sons of detectives to young boys whose education come from phone books to concerned parents -- are created genuine and relatable despite how wholly different they may be to the target audience, and our three leads Sam, Emily and Riddle are among the sweetest characters I've ever had the pleasure of accompanying.

On diverse characters, the story also struck me as having this ageless quality -- as in young in a way that wasn't juvenille or distant -- that will make it appeal to people of all ages, not just YA.

Also, unexpectedly, I'll Be There was not an entirely character-driven novel. In the first pages, Emily tells us about her fascination with twists of fate and ironies, detailing a story of a woman saved from a fall from her apartment window by a mattress ditched by the future husband she'll one day run over and kill. And later, the story follows the Border brothers through a series of astounding near-impossibilities that we forget are still possibilities, taking us along for an almost-ridiculously winding journey that would be comical if it weren't so sad.

And for all of the characters' personal journeys and emotional turmoil, Sloan weaves an ending that intertwines all of the finer points of the novel, restores karmic balance, and leaves even the most stone-hearted of readers all gooey.

A heart-warming story of circumstance and chance and love, I'll Be There is a new favourite of mine and must-read for fans of contemporary fiction.


Cass said...

Great review! I'm so disappointed that the cover is being changed for the paperback edition. I may have to break my general rule and buy the hardcover, soon. I read somewhere that they'll be changing in future reprints (!)

It sounds like a beautiful and captivated contemporary (a genre I adore) read.

laraemilie said...

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Anyway, I hope you'll go on as well as you do with your reading and reviewing!

[I also have a books blog if you'd like to come and have a look (reviews in English and French):]

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