I’ll Be There – Holly Goldberg Sloan

“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…”

I’ll Be There is a highly original and enjoyable new look at teenage love and rites of passage that combines all the whimsical beauty of first love with grit and reality. It’s rare that a book about teenage fiction can be read and enjoyed by adults, but Holly Goldberg Sloan does an admirable cross-over job of attracting a wide range of ages.

The tale focuses on two young protagonists – Sam, and Emily, a young girl who falls for Sam when she first lays eyes on him. Sam, whose deadbeat and criminal father is a poor role model and guardian, dragged him and his brother Riddle away from their mother when they were very young. They are a ‘family’ that travels constantly – only staying in one place long enough for father Clarence to commit a handful of crimes and exhaust all thievery potentials in the area – and who, by chance, arrive in Emily’s hometown. As soon as Sam sees Emily, he’s attracted to her too, and a sweet story of first love ensues. Her parents, who meet the boys, are concerned by the apparent lack of parenting, teaching and health care, and plan to intervene. However, it’s not long before Clarence spots what’s going on and yanks the two boys away without further notice.

Tired of their father’s parental charades, Sam and Riddle endeavour to get away. Clarence, now mentally unstable, takes a murderous turn when he drags the boys out to the middle of nowhere and pulls a gun on them both. But a wrong move sees Clarence suffer a fatal wound and the two boys, pulled away from their father and each other, are left injured and fending for themselves. They battle to get back home to Emily and her loving family.

Meanwhile, Emily, who’s been told by the police that the boys are most likely dead, is full of grief. She’s trying – and failing – to spurn the advances of PI son Bobby, who finds Sam’s disappearance opportune.

Will the boys make it back to the only loving people they’ve ever known? I won’t spoil it for you KCARAB readers, but Holly Goldberg Sloan ends the tale in a lovely, uplifting fashion (whilst serving the over-keen Bobby justice). I absolutely raced through this book and found it to be a wonderful, beautiful read. The perfectly constructed characters, witty language and deft writing style all add up to one truly gripping novel.

Many thanks to Piccadilly for the review copy – and to Accordion Kid for corrections!

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