I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'll Be There is a modern fairy tale.
It reads like a fairy tale and it's got the tropes of a fairy tale, though revisited in a modern key.
It is the story of Sam and Emily.
Sam, our modern male Cinderella, has been on the road with his little sick brother for as long as he can remember, obliged by their psychotic father to live a miserable life, not going to school, kept out of society.
Emily is just a regular small town girl, reserved, introverted.
But when Emily is obliged by her father to sing a solo in church and sees Sam sitting on the back pew, something in the cosmic order of things shifts and their encounter will trigger a series of events which will change, once and for all, not only Sam, Riddle and Emily's lives profoundly but the lives of all people who will get caught in this devastating snowball effect.
I'll admit straight away that I liked this book against my better judgement.
Said judgement was purely based on emotional reasons, namely on the character of Riddle Border. If I had to choose a kid to adopt, this kid would be like him. His thoughts, his story, his drawings, the world seen through his eyes were the best part of the story for me and the main reason why I liked this book. I recommend you to read I'll Be There if only for Riddle.
When I look at it with my analytical skills though, there are various things which didn't convince me or didn't care for.
The first, is the writing style. To tell you the truth, it is pretty much in line with my first statement, that is that this is a fairy tale. Simple, concise, direct. But it unnerved me. I felt like the author was trying to talk to me like you would to a little kid, presenting facts in a linear order, making it simple for my simple mind. I am sure this might appeal to some people but I really didn't care much for it. Now, had the story been narrated from Riddle's point of view, it would have made sense. But for a third person omniscient, I felt like I was talked down to.
Second, Sam and Emily's story. You can call it heart-breaking, touching, whatever you want but the truth is that, like in fairy tales, it was insta-love and not even well developed, at that. I would have loved for the author to have written more scenes for them, to justify Emily's heartbreak or Sam's attraction.
Same goes for Emily's parents. What made them literally fall in love with the two kids? Was it only because Sam has a natural talent for the guitar?
Third. The I'll Be There theme. It was way, way, way, way too corny for me.
Finally, the villain. Well, there were two villains actually. Clarence Border is well portrayed and believable. He is a psycho and as the story unfolds, I really wanted him to burn in hell. He scared the crap out of me, but that means emotional involvement on my part and that is a good sign.
But what about Bobby Ellis? The more subtle villain? He is ok in the first part of the book, ok meaning I can understand his behavior. What happens to him on Prom Day was just downright childish though, like a deus ex machina taking revenge on him for his bad behavior.
So, if I consider how I feel towards this story, I can probably say this book succeeded in its effort: in the second part, it won me over and I felt my eyes getting misty. The story is sad, touching, heart-breaking if you will, and enjoyable all in all. Many will like it.
BUT keep in mind this is a FAIRY TALE, don't look for too many logical connections or overused clichés, let yourself be taken from the flow of emotions and you'll love it.
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