This book exemplifies one of my primary reasons for being a part of the Gateway Reader/Selector Committee: to read something I wouldn’t ordinarily read and be blown away by it. I read the description of the book and was kind of “meh” but jumped in and read it anyway. And thank heavens I did, because this book is amazing.
We have three primary characters. First, there is Emily. She is the type of person that believes in the interconnectedness of all things. When her father makes her take the solo on “I’ll Be There” at their Unitarian Church, Emily, who knows she’s not much of a singer, decides she’s going to direct her singing to the back row. And sitting in that back row is our next main character, Sam. Sam and his brother, Riddle (our third primary character)live with their insane father. The makeshift family has been traveling around the country, moving whenever the authorities start asking too many questions. Sam and Riddle haven’t been to school in years and are used to being on their own. The only reason Sam and Emily’s paths cross is Sam’s love of music and the church’s reliable tendency to feature music during services. Emily is immediately intrigued by Sam and sets out to find more about him. In the meantime, Emily is being pursued by a fellow classmate who just *knows* there’s something wrong with Sam and his family and he’s determined to figure them out. Riddle and Sam are so used to being on their own that when Emily’s family opens their arms to them, they’re not even sure how to be part of a family or how to trust anyone. When Sam and Riddle’s father realizes that his boys are getting attention from the community, he packs them up in his car and drives them across the country (because he’s TOTALLY INSANE).
This is obviously a very character-driven story, but it’s brilliant in its subtlety. Sloan mixes in brief bits of narrative from various other characters in the book, which sheds light on the characters in unexpected and lovely ways. “I’ll Be There” is an amazing and unusual read. The ending may be a bit on the unrealistically happy side, but the theme of interconnectedness really hits home in a delightful way. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It will likely leave the song “I’ll Be There” in your head though.