I'll Be There is a YA contemporary novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Sam and Riddle have never had a home. And since 2nd Grade, Sam has never gone to school. That's when his unstable father snatched him and his younger brother Riddle out of the house they shared with their timid but loving mother. Paranoid and determined to never be in a system, Sam's father keeps them at the fringes of society, moving constantly. Sam, now seventeen, would escape if he could - but he would never abandon his brother.
Riddle has never been "normal" ever since he fell on his head, hard, as a baby. He clutches an old phone book devotedly, a phone book full of drawings he has done of the insides of clocks, engines, and other devices. He rarely speaks, and wheezes constantly - seeming to be in perpetually bad health. But Sam looks after him. After all, their father leaves them to their own devices as long as they don't wander around during the day, when people will wonder why they aren't in school. However, this is an improvement to the beatings that used to give them his full attention.
On Sunday Sam likes to go to church. He doesn't really listen to anything they are saying, he just likes to be somewhere clean for a little while. He sits in the back, and slips out before anyone notices him. But he looks forward to it all week. But this time a pretty girl his age is singing a solo, not very well, and she locks eyes on him - singing to him. His invisibility dissolves. This girl sees him.
Her name is Emily Bell. And it's like they have an instant connection. But meeting her changes so many things. Sam doesn't know how to act around other people. And it's only so long before his father demands they move again...
This description is purposely light on plot - you can only give so much away before you start to ruin the experience. And what an experience this is... Sloan immediately offers compelling characters in a sad situation, outside the realm of ordinary society. The moment that Sam and Emily lock eyes is stunning just in the mere depth of emotion and connection that the author makes so palpable to the reader. I was instantly involved. I cared so quickly.
As the story moves along at a pace that is both patient and engrossing, there is something so sweet and almost untouchable about Sam and Emily's blossoming romance. You feel like you can't even characterize it as something specific, it is as gentle as a breeze yet strong and profound - a deep-set soul connection. The relationship between Sam and his brother Riddle is heartbreakingly sweet without being at all cloying - it feels real, it feels painful - it's love.
I'll Be There is jarring, unexpected, and beautiful. It turns into a harrowing tale that takes twists that shook me to the core. It's a story dealing with hopelessness and a feeling of having no control over your own life - being under the authority of a mad man, essentially. Then I'll Be There turns the tables on us again and suddenly we're in the midst of a shocking, terrifying survival journey in which only the love and unbreakable bond of two unique brothers can keep them alive.
There were rare moments in which Emily frustrated me - but (without giving away anything) these moments were actually understandable on her part. It was really all because I cared so much about these characters, that certain positions they were put in were agonizing for my bibliophile heart.
This novel is terribly suspenseful and made my heart ache so very much! And as the novel wraps up, giving the readers an oh-so-satisfying end to one particularly deceptive character, I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
And why? Because I'll Be There is a brilliant, beautiful, compassionate, emotionally raw, effective and touching debut that more than exceeded my expectations. Wow. Stunning!!!
*I received a review copy of I'll Be There from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.
***BIBLIOPHILE ALERT! I have been reading like an even crazier book addict than usual this year, and apparently three reviews a week can't keep up pace with me! Because of this, for the entire month of July I will be having FIVE reviews a week! That's right! Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday! So, please remember to check back here more often during July - and come August I'm planning on returning to three reviews a week. Keep the schedule change in mind, and don't miss any reviews! :)