The course of true love, as Shakespeare wrote, never did run smooth, and nowhere is that truth more apparent than in Holly Goldberg Sloan’s debut novel, I’ll Be There. From the moment Emily—wracked with nerves while (badly) singing a solo at church—spots a scruffy but undeniably handsome boy in the back pew, her heart is his. And Sam, quiet and mysterious though he is, seems to really like her, too.

Sam and his near-mute little brother, Riddle, are taken aback by the generosity, kindness and normality of Emily’s family. After all, the only lessons they’ve learned on the road with their violent, thieving father are, according to Sam, “if you cared about something, it would be taken away. If you stood up for yourself, you would be beaten down. If you spoke out, you would be silenced.” The two boys have learned to keep secrets, stay out of the way and look after each other. So when they’re forced to go on the move again, can Sam find his way back into a normal life—and real love?

Holly Goldberg Sloan might be a first-time novelist, but she’s an experienced writer and director of many popular family films. No surprise, then, that I’ll Be There has a cinematic feeling, rapidly shifting setting and perspective in a free indirect style that helps reinforce the novel’s themes of interconnection. Are coincidences meaningful? What motivates people to help others, become friends, fall in love? Can those who have been deeply damaged seize a fresh start? Emily and Sam’s journey is a rocky one—literally so, for Sam—but it’s also romantic, heartfelt and deeply satisfying.

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