Friday, 8 July 2011

Review: I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Raised by an unstable father who keeps the family constantly on the move, Sam Border hasn't been in a classroom since the second grade. He's always been the rock for his younger brother Riddle, who stopped speaking long ago and instead makes sense of the world through his strange and intricate drawings. It's said that the two boys speak with one voice-and that voice is Sam's.
Then, Sam meets Emily Bell, and everything changes. The two share an immediate and intense attraction, and soon Sam and Riddle find themselves welcomed into the Bell's home. Faced with normalcy for the first time, they know it's too good to last.

This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The first two thirds were stunning – the language was deceptively simple but really beautifully constructed, the tension was high, and everything about it was just brilliant. However, after this point something lost me. I’m not sure if I was tired, or whether  the style shifted – but around the point where YET ANOTHER BAD THING HAPPENED, and continued to happen (there was a string of really bad things happening to the boys for a while) the book lost me. It just reached a point where it seemed too insane to even contemplate, not that I stopped caring about the awful things happening to the two boys.

It was still interesting, and it wasn’t to the point that I gave up and put the book down for the night, but my attention definitely wavered, and I regarded the more bad things as a bit ludicrous, rather than upping the ante on the stress factor. It was like watching the film ‘Serendipity’ – where you just want to scream at how close it all comes to being all right so many times, and they just miss each other!

Then the book picks up a bit, and it swept me up into the action again – although I wasn’t quite as taken as the first part of the book, it was still great to get lost in the story again. But then the end did something horrible. And I’m not talking about the end of the book what happens, I mean the style in which it’s covered. It was like one of those movie montages where you freeze frame on each character and get a summary of what happens to them. It just felt so disjointed, and after such a beautiful start to the book it made me want to cry that it didn’t get the ending I felt it deserved.

Which made me start thinking, why was I left so dissatisfied? Except obviously for the ending, which I’ve already explained. And I started to realize that it was partly the characters. In the first part of the book I was so swept up in how gorgeous and brilliant it all was that I didn’t really think about it, but my mind started to wander later on, and it felt like some of the characters weren’t given enough depth to make me really care. They were just there as tools, not as people.

For example Bobby Ellis starts out not all that bad – little bit creepy I grant you, but essentially an  alright kind of guy. Then he turns into the comedic caricature where really ridiculously bad things happen to him because he’s such a bad person. Only it just seemed out of place and ridiculous because there was no build-up of bad person, it just suddenly happened.

Which made me look at the rest of the characters, and with the exception of Sam, Riddle and to some extent Emily, they all seemed to be there as flat plot devices – they had no depth to make me care about them. They had backstory and other little bits, but it didn’t seem to be enough. They were more cut out silhouettes with a specific purpose than people that I cared about.

However the writing was for the most part simplicity at its best – an array of perfect pieces of prose that made you really feel for the two brothers in their unfair world. I loved the connections, the points of meeting for a multitude of characters, although at times it felt like there wasn’t enough time to get to know each of them properly – and this was where they turned into cut outs. There to further the story and serve a purpose rather than being there in their own right.

So as I said, I’m torn. I wanted to love this book. In fact I started out loving this book, but somewhere along the way it lost me. And that’s just me and my personal preferences, but I’m really disappointed that we broke up part way through.  However, the first half was completely spot on, and I’m going to remember that when I look back on this.

But what did you think? Love it? Hate it? Think I’m crazy for falling out with it? Let me know in the comments below.

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