Bel Canto, Holly Goldberg Sloan, I'll Be There, Morgan Mussell, Young Adult

It’s Okay to Know Everything: A Review of I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Oh, and I love comments.

Some years ago when I first began writing seriously, I got together with a few others and we tried to start a critique group. At an early meeting, I read a passage of my work-in-progress and one of the others jumped all over me about point of view. She claimed I could only know what one person was doing, seeing, thinking, etc. I suggested that an omniscient observer was a valid point of view, but she dismissed that idea as idiotic. I brought Bel Canto to the next meeting to show an example of omniscient observer that worked awfully well. Shortly after, the group broke up.

I'll Be ThereIt seems to me in this day and age, the vast majority of published fiction is written in either first person or close third person. What I’ve read in writing books and heard at conferences is that this has become the way things are done so as not to confuse our readers. Kind of insulting, I think, but it is what it is. It can be a distraction unless it is done really well, and that is actually rare. I just finished a book in which the omniscient observer point of veiw is really done well, so I recommend that you run right out and get Holly Goldberg Sloan’s debut novel, I’ll Be There.
This is a young adult book, but since I read a lot of YA and write YA, this should be no surprise. But I must say, even if you don’t read a lot of YA, you should give this one a try. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this book. (My friend Morgan Mussell just posted What is YA and Who Reads It on his blog. You might find it interesting.)
Holly Goldberg Sloan
I’ll Be There is the riveting story of two brothers, one seventeen and one twelve, who live in the most precarious of conditions. Sam and Riddle live not so much with their father, but in spite of him. They were jerked away from their mother and some semblance of a home when they are only two and seven by their father, a darkly villainous man who is driven by a larcenous soul and strange voices only he can hear. The boys have been kept from anything normal since he took them. They’ve had no school, no permanent place to live or health care or enough food to let them thrive, etc. Riddle, asthmatic and allergic, can hardly breathe much of the time and seldom speaks. Sam is a hero almost from the first page, doing what needs to be done to protect his brother and keep them both in survival mode. But they are special boys. Riddle is an extraordinary artist. Sam is a gifted guitarist, self-taught, and music is his salvation. Sam goes to church every Sunday he can. Not because he is religious, but because of the music. It is in a small-town church Sam and Emily meet.
Emily, also seventeen, is the shy, quietly intelligent, and sensitive daughter of a college music professor and a nurse. Her best friend persuades Emily to go out with a popular boy, Bobby Ellis. She’s not much interested and it shows. What could possibly make her more fascinating to Bobby than that? But she’s not playing Bobby. She is captivated by Sam and can’t get him out of her mind. She finds him and makes sure he can be in her life. Bobby becomes obsessed with Emily and, in following Sam and investigating him and his family, spooks the boys’ crazy, paranoid father and sets things in motion that careen wildly out of control, endangering the boys in unimaginable ways.
Bel Canto (P.S.)Sloan has created characters who will grab your heart and hold on for dear life, taking you with them on this incredible journey. And it’s a love story, and I’m always a sucker for that. But it’s not just a love story about Emily and Sam. Sam and Riddle’s love for each other is powerful and amazing. And there are other kinds of love that grow organically around these characters that make it a very rich read. How good is this book? I was grateful I had to wait forty-five minutes for a test at Kaiser today so I could have some uninterrupted time to read this delicious book. There wasn’t a moment I spent with I’ll Be There when I wasn’t thrilled to lose myself in the pages. Oh, and don’t forget Bel Canto, that other well-written book written in the omniscient observer point of view.

11 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Know Everything: A Review of I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan”

  1. Hello Madam,

    I am from a very remote Himalayan Country called Bhutan. (I hope you know about it)

    well, I have been reading your blog for quite sometime now. It inspired me to also write somethings that struck my mind and I tried my best to put in words. (As it appears on my blog)

    Being born in a country, where people are all educated in English, it is a general conceived notion that writing should not be a problem.

    But, for me, i feel that notion is wrong. because knowing language is one thing and being able to put in words is quite another thing.

    So, as you can see, I am still learning how to put my thoughts into words.

    so please, madam, do visit my blog too and leave me your genuine feed backs, suggestions and critical comments. because, Like you I too Like receiving comments!

    Kuenzang, Bhutan


  2. Dear Sir, Thank you for commenting on my post. I have tried to leave a comment on your blog, but it doesn't seem to show up. I hope you receive this. It is nice to know who from Bhutan is reading my blog. I was aware I had readers there, but didn't know who.

    I enjoyed reading your post about being jobless. It was well-written and interesting. I look forward to reading future posts from you.



  3. I've never been a fan of books written in first person, but maybe it's because of what you said–these books tend not to be as well written. That's a true shame, because I think first person, if well done, can pull in a reader like no other POV can. Thank you very much, Rosi, for sharing a book that could help myself and others try this surprisingly challenging but potentially powerful POV.



  4. Wonderful review, Rosi, I hope to get a copy of this book. (I have a discount certificate at Border's I have to use next week.) I think omniscient is a hard pov to pull off, but I agree tht Ann Patchett did it so well in Bel Canto, a book that just blew me away; and this one sounds great.
    PS: How nice to be contacted from a reader in Bhutan!


  5. Thanks for the review, Rosi. Yet another title for my book queue! This sounds like a must read.

    As far as the POV issue, when I hear someone declare what must be done in writing, I always wonder, “says who?” Someone in my other critique group argued persuasively that POV ain't what it used to be. She cited a best seller – I think it was, The Time Traveller's Wife as a successful novel where POV shifted as often as every paragraph.

    True, you wouldn't want to do that at home or for YA, but I think you are absolutely right in giving readers credit.


  6. I love your book reviews, Rosi. You always tell us about wonderful books that we immediately realize we need to read.
    Helen Jacobson


  7. Thanks, Everyone, for stopping by. Point of view is always a point of contention in writing. Morgan, I agree when someone says “must” it raises a lot of questions for me. Helen, it is a book I know you will love!


  8. Hi Rosi. You make two excellent cases for omniscient observer point of view. I read “Jazz” by Toni Morrison recently in which the narrator switches to viewpoints of various characters, inanimate objects and even concepts. The book's final narrator is believed to the the book itself. Which goes to show, a talented writer can get away with just about anything.


  9. That's a book I need to read, Margaret. She certainly is one of the most talented writers around, so I'm sure I can learn something from her. Thanks for the comment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s