Sloan, Holly Goldberg. 2011. I’LL BE THERE. New York: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316122795. [Suggested Grade Levels 8-10]
Emily Bell’s life has been stable and mostly predictable. Her family is loving and helpful, making the right decisions comes easily to her, and her life is void of “dramatic hairpin turns.” Sam and Riddle Border have never lived in one place for more than a few months. Their father is unstable in every possible way. Emotionally and physically abusive, he moves the brothers to new locations whenever he feels “the net closing in on him.” Riddle has never been to school (and Sam not since the second grade), nor have they received medical care in that time. When Emily and Sam’s opposite lives merge unexpectedly, neither anticipates the enduring effect that each will have on the other.
Sloan’s debut novel is a breath of fresh air. Sam and Emily, who could easily be one-dimensional stereotypes, are instead unique and vibrant. Although the chain of events that befall the two are simply extraordinary, the circumstances and experiences rarely seem forced or contrived. Sloan successfully weaves into the background the stories of many other minor characters to create a memorable and inimitable coming-of-age narrative.
At http://hollygoldbergsloan.com/aboutthebook.html, there are “playlists” of songs for each character. Teens could consider whether there are other songs that they believe capture the essence of Sam, Emily, or any of the other characters listed.
Other coming-of-age stories with both female and male protagonists:
Green, John. PAPER TOWNS. ISBN 9780525478188
Schmidt, Gary. OKAY FOR NOW. ISBN 9780547152608
By Sarah C. Dornback