I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan begins with the romance of an unlikely couple and turns into a harrowing survival tale. Readers will find this suspenseful book hard to put down. Sometimes Sloan’s plots stretch credibility. But I don’t care. I love her books anyway!
Emily Bell is your all American girl. Her parents are loving people who want to make a positive mark on their world. Emily plays second string soccer and excels in school. She is curious about people and notices things that others fail to see.
Sam Border has been raised in the worst possible environment. His dad, Clarence, is a conman and a criminal. They move often to stay away from the Law. Sam takes care of his younger brother, Riddle. He hasn’t been to school since second grade. He and Riddle have learned to be invisible especially during the day. In the afternoons, they emerge from their low rent house and go dumpster diving.
Clarence Border has no redeeming qualities. He knows how to steal and pawn goods. He finds the boys useful; people are sympathetic to a single dad with two young boys. He has never paid much attention to them but as the boys grow older, he becomes more resentful of his sons. Both guys refuse to steal or engage in any criminal activity making them useless in his eyes.
A series of random meetings bring Emily and Sam together. Emily is fascinated by Sam. He’s not like any guy she’s ever known. He totally misses pop culture references. He’s quiet and humble, a welcome change from the arrogant Bobby Ellis who has had his eyes on Emily for months.
The Bell family begin to realize that Emily is love so they insist that Sam come over for dinner. Mr. Bell discovers that Sam is a musical prodigy. It’s not long before Sam and Riddle become a fixture in the Bell household.
It’s scary for Sam who is beginning to realize how strange his life really is. Riddle, Sam’s brother, stands out even more. He’s five years younger and small for his age. He rarely talks and spends most of his free time creating intricate drawings in old phone books.
Mrs. Bell takes an interest in Riddle and manages to get him some asthma medicine. Riddle, who had felt like there was an elephant sitting on him, begins feeling better and talking more. He loves helping Mrs. Bell fix supper every night.
The book takes a sinister turn when Clarence Border finds Emily Bell’s cellphone in his son’s pocket. He knew they had been doing laundry a lot. They were also later and later getting back to the house at night. Clarence is very angry about his sons’ secret lives. He vows to seek revenge.
Meanwhile the Bells are clueless about Sam and Riddle. They don’t know that they live in a moldy house scheduled for demolition on the worst side of town or that their meals often come from trash cans. When Mr. Bell’s car is vandalized, Sam realizes that he and Riddle are in trouble.
When Sam and Riddle arrive home, Clarence is throwing everything into the trunk and angrily orders them inside. They are headed again for an unknown destination.
The Border sons are now caught in a life or death spiral. Clarence has decided that he will make his sons pay. From this point, it’s a wild ride for the brothers who must not only deal with Clarence’s wrath but also navigate a remote wilderness without supplies or assistance.
Just Call My Name, also based on a song by The Jackson Five, is the sequel. The characters are mostly the same. The plot has a similar structure. This time it is Emily and her friend, Destiny who are kidnapped and must fight for their survival.
I highly recommend these books for middle school and above. These titles are light reading at its best.