If you’ve looked at the weekly bestseller list recently, chances are you’ve seen a young adult (or YA) novel at or near the top. The novels, which combine fast-moving plots, love triangles, and strong teenage protagonists, are popular with both teenage and adult readers. This surge in popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by Hollywood, and 2014 saw multiple box-office hits based on best-selling teen novels, such as The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and Mockingjay.
Filmmaker Holly Goldberg Sloan ’80 also found inspiration in YA, though in a more roundabout way. Sloan, who has thrived in Hollywood as the writer and director of numerous family feature films, is now a critically acclaimed YA novelist. Sloan’s latest effort, Just Call My Name, a follow-up to 2011’s I’ll Be There, shows her Hollywood roots. It’s at once a page-turning action thriller and a touching exploration of friendship and brotherly love that seems tailor-made for the big screen.
I’ll Be There told the story of teenage Sam and his younger brother, Riddle, who were kidnapped by their abusive father and spent 10 years on the run with him. A chance encounter with Emily, a teenage girl, set off a chain of events that led to Sam and Riddle’s escape and their father’s incarceration. While fans of I’ll Be There will be pleased to continue the story of Sam and Riddle, Just Call My Name also works as a stand-alone book.
As Just Call My Name opens, Sam and Riddle are living with Emily’s family. Emily’s younger brother, Jared, though, resents the new additions, especially 12-year-old Riddle and his awkward behavior. A burgeoning romance between Emily and Sam is threatened by Robb, Emily’s jilted ex-boyfriend, and Destiny, a newcomer to town whose larger-than-life personality hints at a troubled past. While Sam is distracted by this love rectangle, he’s unaware of a bigger threat: His father, Clarence, is planning a jailbreak so he can exact his revenge on his sons and Emily’s family.
It’s a large cast of characters, but the reader gets to know them all intimately because Sloan constantly shifts narrative voices and reveals each character’s innermost thoughts and background story. While the first half of the book introduces the characters, the second half turns into an action-packed, page-turning thriller that weaves the threads of these disparate characters together in an emotionally satisfying way. More cynical readers may wonder if every loose end gets tied up a bit too neatly, but after all—Sloan does know her way around a perfect Hollywood ending.
Halpern is a children’s librarian living in Montville, N.J.