I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan; published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2011; 393 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: May 17, 2011.

Synchronicity: noun /ˌsiNGkrəˈnisitē/  1. The simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. (Google dictionary definition)

Emily Bell has a terrible singing voice; why does her father insist she sing the Jackson 5’s hit single “I’ll Be There” as a solo at church?  Sam Border has spent his life as a vagrant at the mercy of his father’s mental illness, so why does he go to church on Sundays?  As she sings her terrifying solo, Emily finds an emotional connection to the strange young man in the last row.  Their paths are destined to cross again, and in a big way.  As Sam and Emily grow close, his secret life is harder to hide.  First, he introduces his little brother, Riddle, to the Bell family.  Then Bobby Ellis, a rival for Emily’s affections, discovers where the Borders live.  Sam’s father’s voice-inside-his-head warns him to pack up and leave with the boys.  With the help of a cast of strangers who embody synchronicity, Sam and Riddle’s lives are about to change forever.

I’m afraid my description of the story does not do it justice.  Some books stay with me long after I’ve closed the back cover; this is one of them.  Sloan’s sense of humor and light touch belie a very stirring story of loss and belonging.  With a gentle touch, she introduces secondary characters who change the course of Sam and Riddle’s lives by choosing to do the right thing.  Even Sam’s extraordinary musical gift is tied to his survival.  The author’s screen-writing background is evident in her character and plot development, but it’s her skill at using a light touch to portray heavy themes that wins my admiration.

Think you know what “family” is?  I’ll Be There may just challenge your preconceptions.  Fans of realistic fiction, and anyone that enjoys a well-crafted story, will devour this book.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-12

Cover Art: I reviewed a special advance reading copy that arrived in a plain brown wrapper.  The art from the publisher’s website is unimpressive.  The colors are attractive but the image does nothing to pique interest or depict the story.  Maybe I’m thinking in terms of movie posters (given the author’s credentials) because I expected so much more from the cover art.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction), ARC (advance reading copy)


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