About the Book

Title: I’ll Be There
Published: 2011
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Showoff
BFF Charm: Maybe
Adoption Certificate: YES!!
Talky Talk: Razor Sharp
Bonus Factors: Mysterious Loner Dude, Loyal Pet, Karma
Relationship Status: Never Gonna Let You Go

Cover Story: Showoff

I love the cover! Sure, it looks kinda like the Kindle app icon, but it’s so pretty!

The Deal:

Sam and his little brother Riddle have lived all over the country, uprooted by their dangerously crazy, criminal father every time the voices in his head warn him it’s time to move on. Her whole life, Emily Bell has lived in the same town, the same house with her normal professional parents, her little brother and their fat old dog Felix.

Sam hasn’t been to school since second grade, but knows how to disappear, how to protect strange little Riddle, and he knows music.

Emily’s been in the same school district her whole life, but she doesn’t know much about the world. She does believe everything is connected. So when her dad makes her sing a solo in church – “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, which is bad enough by itself, but Emily can’t sing – and she handles her nerves by singing to the strange boy in the back row, it has to mean something that the boy is Sam.

Emily doesn’t know what their meeting will do to Sam’s tenuous protective walls, but Sam does, and he tries to ignore their connection. But of course he can’t, and Sam and Emily knock down that first domino in a wild chain they’ll be powerless to stop.

BFF Charm: Maybe

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

Emily’s drawn a little vague for me to make a bff decision. She’s nice, and gets good grades, and doesn’t break rules, but she’s mainly remarkable for her instant, intense love for Sam. Sam is so outside the world he wouldn’t know what a bff charm was, let alone what to do with it, but I’d give him one anyway. He’s so brittle, I can’t help it.

Adoption Certificate: YES!!!

Paper doll family (mom, dad, and two children) with a red heart above them and a paper cut out house next to them

But Riddle! Oh, Riddle-my-Riddle! Sweet, different Riddle, who’s been raised on the lam since he was a toddler, ignored (at best) and abused (at worst) by his father, who has such severe asthma he can barely speak, so he deals with his strange reality by drawing intricate mechanical diagrams in a scavenged phone book — Riddle takes my heart, and I wish he was real so I could adopt him, but I’m glad he’s not, because his life is too heartbreaking and there are enough real children living terrible lives.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Sam’s determination to keep his distance from Emily makes the swoon so hardcore. Much like Cameron Quick in Sweethearts, Sam has lives at stake if he gets involved, but unlike Jenna, Emily doesn’t know anything about Sam’s life (since he won’t tell her), and that makes her heartbreak more bitter. Every time Sam tells Emily goodbye, he means it as a final goodbye, and while reading, I knew it if she didn’t, and I knew why and I was so tense and worried sick that each time would be THE time Sam’s father really snapped, so I just wanted to stretch out their time together as long as possible. Heartbreak, a few fist pumps and SWOONY TUNES (who knew city buses could bring the swoon?).

Haley jogged over to Emily. They both were covered in sweat. Haley said breathlessly:

“Don’t look right away, but leaning against the fence behind you is maybe the cutest guy to ever set foot in the state.”

Emily’s head instantly swiveled. Haley tried not to shriek, but it came out that way.

“I told you not to look!”

Emily smiled, and then as Haley watched, she ran across the field straight at the Vision in a Plaid Shirt.

With Haley immobilized, the other players stopped running.

Twenty-one girls now watched, dazed, as the boy/man/god put his arm on Emily’s shoulder, drew her near, and with the old chain-link fence between their two bodies, gave her the sweetest kiss any of them had ever seen.

The next day, despite the fact that Emily was a junior, and despite the fact that she was one of the weaker players the team voted her captain for the following season.


Talky Talk: Like a Knife

Sloan’s writing is sharp and forceful. She summarizes conversations instead of writing much dialogue, and most of the time that would leave me begging, “Show, don’t tell!” But with Sloan, I felt it was more because she didn’t want to waste pages and pages on mundane back and forth, and saved the quotation marks for the big guns. The style also allows Sloan to pepper the book with short machine-gun bursts of Death Valley-level one-liners and straight-faced slapstick scenes.

Tim Bell was obsessed with Sam.

Debbie Bell was obsessed with Riddle.

Jared Bell was in awe of Sam and sort of frightened by Riddle’s obsessive drawing.

Felix the dog liked Sam and was in love with Riddle. But his obsession was the English setter named Cricket who lived three houses over.

And Emily Bell was finding herself more and more unable to control the situation. She was frightened by the obsessive nature of her own family. What was going on with these people?

The novel hops around points of view, from Sam to Emily to Riddle to the boys’ dad Clarence to Emily’s aspiring-boyfriend/stalker Bobby Ellis, and each jump cut left me breathless and wanting more as things really started going to shit in a handcart. But right as I thought if she shifted the scene one more time I’d have a heart attack because I JUST NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO RIDDLE, she threw in another dry joke to defuse the situation, then proceeded to give me another heart attack about EMILY OH MY GOD WHAT’S BOBBY DOING?!

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude

Jordan Catalano, a hot brooding stoner, in My So-Called Life

Sam, Sam, Sam. Sam is the mysterious loner dude lover’s mysterious loner dude. It turns out knowing WHY the MLD is so mysterious and alone is unbelievably sexy, and Sam’s about the hottest thing since we found out Jordan Catalano can’t read. Being raised off the grid and in near total isolation means Sam makes Cameron Quick look like, um, the yearbook entry for Most Popular and Least Likely to Have Dark Secrets. Maybe it’s because he needs protecting? Or because he’s so protective? Whatever, I’m not going to analyze it too much because that’ll remove the aura of mysteriousness.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pet

Golden retriever looking at camera while being hugged by a man

Felix doesn’t pull a Manchee or anything, but I’m a sucker for a fat old family dog and I love him so much!

Bonus Factor: Karma

Boy George in the "Karma Chameleon" music video

I won’t get into anything that happens in the book beyond Emily’s family meeting Sam and Riddle because I don’t want to ruin the mouth-drying, heart-pounding, seat-clenching adrenaline avalanche. It’s sufficient to say when things go to pieces they REALLY go to pieces, and karma’s a big ugly bitch, baby.

Relationship Status: Never Gonna Let You Go

I fell hard for this book. Like almost creepy hard. It gave me Jellicoe Road-caliber TEABS. It maybe surpassed my Sweethearts TEABS. I have TEABS to end all TEABS right now – they’re so bad, I’ve been singing “I’ll Be There” to myself. I haven’t cut off its arms and legs to make it stay, but I’m not ruling it out, either.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Little, Brown. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). I’ll Be There is available now.

Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.