cover image I'll Be There

I'll Be There

Holly Goldberg Sloan. Little, Brown, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-12279-5

Screenwriter and director Sloan delivers a cinematic, psychologically nuanced first novel of star-crossed love and the power of human empathy and connection. Sloan excels at crafting memorable characters and relationships, from the central, transformative romance between 17-year-olds Sam and Emily, who meet after her disastrous church solo, to finely sketched cameos. Sam and his sensitive, possibly autistic younger brother, Riddle, live an isolated and itinerant existence, subject to the whims of their violent and deranged father, Clarence. Tension escalates as Emily's family becomes attached to the boys, growing concerned for their well-being, and an unstable Clarence takes off with his sons once again. It's agonizing but thrilling reading as Sam and Emily try to surmount the many obstacles Sloan throws at them. Her skills as a writer are never in doubt, though the story can at times feel melodramatic, especially as it turns into a survivalist epic, and a plot thread about a classmate enamored with Emily devolves into slapstick. But Emily and Sam's romance is that of the against-all-odds, meant-to-be variety, and while the ending is too perfect, it is unquestionably earned. Ages 12%E2%80%93up. (May)