Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: May 17, 2011
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: Personal Copy
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.
The beauty of contemporary fiction, regardless of the age range for which it's written, is that when it's done well, it has the innate power to evoke true, raw emotion from readers. It's a power that, in the vast scheme of literature, very few novels possess, but it's a true gem when we find one that does. I'll Be There is a novel that speaks volumes to readers but does so in sweet, melodic tones that resonate, gently prompting to look within ourselves and challenge the depths of our own humanity and compassion.
Underrated in so many ways, I'll Be There soars because of this, and the emotion leaps from the pages from the start. Sam embodies loneliness. If loneliness had a face, it would be his, and the aching sadness of it would grip you in its vice-like hooks because of its depths. Sam is a genuine character in whom I could see shades of myself; vestiges of a lost youth, though his circumstances were undeniably more difficult. Emily, on the other hand, wanted for nothing. At the same time though, she didn't fall prey to the stereotypes of young adult good girls. There was a sweetness about her - almost a achingly so - and a trust that makes her truly accessible.
The connection between Emily and Sam surpassed much of what romance presents to the genre today. Rather than offering us lust, I'll Be There offers us a connection. Rather than playing to a hyper-sexualized society, we're offered sweet, powerful and pure friendship and compassion, which makes the plot and events within the novel all the more powerful. The novel embraces pain and hardship throughout, making it a difficult read at times, but in the best possible way. I found that it challenged me to feel everything I didn't necessarily want to feel and, in the end, put me in the characters' exact shoes at exactly the right place and time.
Holly Goldberg Sloan spun a masterpiece with I'll Be There. Equal parts character-driven and plot driven, there is a delicate and precarious balance throughout - the art of which simply cannot be ignored. The writing is melodic and heartfelt, but it never felt cloying or overtly so. Instead, it simply felt as though I was watching two lives intersect, blossom and evolve into something different entirely. It was beautiful, heart-wrenching and completely surprising from start to finish.
Overall, I'm unable to fully express just how poignant and powerful this novel is. The manner in which characters and relationships are explored is absolutely impeccable, and if you're looking for a book that embraces humanity in its truest potential, this is it. I give I'll Be There a 5 out of 5, and I highly recommend to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.