On the Backlist: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

My backlist choice, today, is I’ll Be There. I originally picked this up from the library because I’m planning to review its sequel, Just Call My Name, which released last week, but I really enjoyed reading the first book! (And yes, the titles totally refer to the Jackson 5 song on purpose. I sang them to myself every time I picked this up off my nightstand!)

I’ll Be There is the story of Sam, Emily, and Sam’s little brother, Riddle, and how they discover ways to be “there” for each other. Sam and Riddle have never really had any kind of support system–their mother is dead, their father’s unhinged, and a thief. He moves them from town to town, state to state, whenever he feels like the law or the walls might be closing in, and he couldn’t care less about the welfare of his boys. Seventeen year old Sam and twelve year old Riddle do their best to care for each other and basically just try not to starve, until Sam runs into Emily.

The whole story is sort of an odd, strangely told little puzzle. Emily spends most of the book trying to figure Sam out, and to help him, and neither ends up happening in the way she’d like, exactly. Even so, they do seem to fall in a sort of love. I liked their relationship, and the careful distance that remained between them (though I do hope that closes, some, in the next book). It seemed true to Sam’s character. Sam and Riddle, though, are the real stars of this book, and Riddle’s loyalty and care for Sam when things really go sideways is sweet and inspiring.

Every one of these characters is familiar, and yet a little surprising. Each of them–even the ancillary characters–drew me in and made me wonder more about their lives. This is a quirky little book, to be sure, but there’s deep tenderness and observation in it, and the more I think about it, the more I’m impressed with the message it conveyed.

As far as the storytelling goes, I could see where things were likely to end up at about halfway through the book, but watching the pieces click into place was a little like seeing the gears of a watch work together–Sloan clearly had a plan, all the way through, and seeing it work so beautifully was kind of lovely. And I wanted it to end the way it did. My only real quibble was the scene with the bear which, while fine enough in concept, seemed really jarring, since it shifted to first person. I wasn’t sure why that portion of the book was suddenly being narrated by a bear. So….

Otherwise, I thought I’ll Be There was a nice little read. I’m not quite sure what’s left of this story to be told in a sequel, but I guess we’ll see?

Clean, other than some really PG language. So close to 4 stars it kind of makes my teeth hurt that I don’t have a “not quite, but oh heck why not?” designation.

Favorite Quote:

“The way to make the pain go away was to put your mind somewhere else. You let your mind leave and float above you, where it could watch you.

So now there were two of you.

Always.

…You don’t think about the future, because it doesn’t matter anymore, and you never, ever think about the past, because it is gone. And thinking about what is gone is the pain.
You try to smile, but it feels really fake, but you are a fake now so that isn’t a problem. What is a problem is how trivial everything is. The things that get people anxious or upset are not worth anyone’s time.

But they can’t see that.

So while the world around you obsesses over all the wrong things, you know the secret. You know that there are things that matter, and then there is everything else.”

 

How about you? Have you read I’ll Be There? What do you think?

on-the-backlist

 

4 Stars

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