The kind of book you rent from a library

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Summary from Amazon:
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. Beautifully written and emotionally profound, I’ll Be There is a gripping story that explores the complexities of teenage passions, friendships, and loyalties.

Thoughts on I’ll Be There:
First off, let me just say that this cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story, besides the fact that there are two androgynous shapes who may or may not be Sam and Emily or Sam and Riddle. So I would consider that a waste of covers space, especially if you judge a book by its cover. But I digress. I read this book purely for the FYA Book Club, and I knew going in that I would not like it. Based on the summary from Goodreads, it just wasn’t up my alley – it’s Nic Sparks meets YA. Nevertheless, I went to my local library (no way I was dishing out money even for a Kindle edition), checked out the book, and cracked the spine. I finished it in only a few hours, despite its 392 page count and my slow reading pace. I ended the book a little surprised that it was so easy to read and such a roller coaster ride of emotions. (At least, it would have been a ride if I had actually felt the intended emotions.) Though I found the book cheesy and riddled with stereotypes, though I found Emily’s parents fickle at best, I will say I appreciate the growth seen in the protagonist Emily Bell.

In the beginning of I’ll Be There, Emily and Sam’s meet-cute is anything but cute. She sings – you guessed it – the Jackson 5’s song “I’ll Be There” for a solo in the church choir. Her singing is horrible, and everyone knows it, but her father forces her into the solo due to his delusions that one of his children is as musically talented or interested as he is. But Emily finds herself steadying as she decides to sing to this random stranger sitting in the back of the church – Sam. They stare into each other’s eyes as fate connects them … Then Emily runs out and throws up. Sam follows and holds her hair back. How romantic, right? I’m sure that leads so many people into long-term, meaningful relationships. (Don’t get me wrong, it totally could.)

Later we see the shallowness of Emily’s character as she thinks about this stranger, whom she now knows is named Sam. She thinks about the things they will do together and the places they will go, how their parents will interact, how she and Sam hopefully like all the same things, etc. Basically, she wants Sam to be an attractive male version of herself – your run of the mill rich, well-traveled teenager. Even as she thinks of problems in her life, her problems are so small compared to Sam’s, whose family life is anything but run of the mill. Granted, she doesn’t know anything about Sam’s troubles.

However, we finally see Emily’s character develop after tragedy strikes her family and Sam’s. She starts to ponder what brings two people together.

“What was choosing someone all about, anyway? Did it come down to understanding how the way the person felt about you made you feel about yourself? … Were people really just mirrors for each other? … Did everyone simply struggle to feel special and be acknowledged for that?
Or was there something else?”

Emily eventually asks herself the question that I feel like most teenage girls asks themselves at least once – Am I only with this guy because I want to unlock all his secrets? Because I want to “fix” him?

Throughout the remainder of the novel, we see Emily grow up little by little. (I guess tragedy does that to people.) She begins to take initiative, stand up for herself, become her own person. Though I still don’t love her by the end of the novel, she isn’t so shallow and annoying anymore.

Perhaps the only truly lovable character in this book, for me at least, was Riddle. The younger brother of Sam, Riddle has some developmental delays and possibly a touch of Asperger syndrome. However, the glimpses we get into his mind and his interactions with those around him, especially animals, will melt your heart. He is so dedicated to those he loves and so strong despite all he goes through.

So though I didn’t love this book, I know it was widely popular. It might be a better read for someone who likes romance, YA, and drama. Personally, I would recommend just renting it from the library. The library is the place to go for books you don’t really hate but you also don’t really like either.

And yes, I am reading the sequel, if only because I am so stubborn I have to know what becomes of these fictional beings, not because I actually liked this book.

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