Title: I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip
Author: John Donovan
Publisher: Harper & Row (1969); reissued by Flux in 2010
Amazon Buy Link
Genre: YA; Contemporary
Length: Novel (228 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie
In a nutshell: A classic of children’s literature that I only discovered two weeks ago!
When the grandmother who raised him dies, Davy Ross, a lonely thirteen-year-old boy, must move to Manhattan to live with his estranged mother. Between alcohol-infused lectures about her self-sacrifice and awkward visits with his distant father, Davy’s only comfort is his beloved dachshund Fred. Things start to look up when he and a boy from school become friends. But when their relationship takes an unexpected turn, Davy struggles to understand what happened and what it might mean.
I wonder what I would have thought of this book if I had read it when it was originally published in 1969. I would have been the age of the two main characters (13) and although I was a girl, not a boy, I was definitely in the target audience. I suspect I might not have understood it completely. I say that because it reminds me, in many ways, of another book from that era, Harriet the Spy, that I absolutely loved. However, when I went back and re-read Harriet many years later, I realized how much of it had gone completely over my head. I think that might have been the case with I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip. However, this is all moot since I didn’t read it way back when.
Which makes me all the more glad that I read it now.
This book holds an interesting spot in the canon of children’s literature as being the first book written for children that deals with the subject of homosexuality. It was published in the spring of 1969, several months before the Stonewall Riots. At that time, being gay was still considered a mental illness. So, it was a novel idea of the author—or maybe even brave—to pitch a book written specifically for children that contained a gay storyline (or in his words, “a story of buddy love”). More courageous was the editor, Ursula Nordstrom, who believed this story was important and needed to be published. (As an aside, I wonder if the fact that Ursula was a lesbian figured into her decision making?)
The story is told from Davy’s first person POV. He’s the only child of well-to-do divorced parents and has been living with his grandmother since he was five years old. She dies unexpectedly and he has to move and essentially, find a new family. While various options are discussed (aunts, uncles, dad and step-mom, bachelor Uncle Jess who is likely gay [and would probably have been the best choice]), he ends up with his alcoholic and totally dysfunctional mother. (I have to be honest. I HATED his mother by the middle of the book and my feelings only intensified as the story went on.) But Davy is a smart kid and clearly has had enough disruption in his life that he knows how to make the best of a bad situation and thus he settles in with mom in a small, trendy apartment in the Chelsea section of New York City.
Davy is a funny and sympathetic narrator. He is clearly not happy about the situation he is in, but what’s he going to do? He’s 13 years old and at the whim of the adults who make decisions for him. He knows what he can control and what he can’t and thus finds a way to cope. He has his beloved dachshund Fred to keep him happy and he manages to settle in at his swanky private school without too much trouble. He becomes friendly with Douglas Altschuler, a popular kid who is also dealing with his own family dysfunction and loss. When Davy and Altschuler share a kiss (on page) and further intimacies (all off page and left totally to the reader’s imagination), Davy’s coping skills—and understanding of who he is—are sorely tested.
The ending is ambiguous but I thought it was perfect—at least reading it now, I thought it was perfect. Back when I was 13, I might have had no clue what was going on. But that’s sort of the point, right? Davy also didn’t have a clue what was going on. Who was he going to turn to? What is he feeling? I think the big question that hangs over the book is, is Davy gay or is this just a typical phase of experimentation for children in their early teens? (I can relate: when I was 12 and 13, I had a few (girl)friends that I made out with. We called it “practicing” so we’d be ready for the real things with boys.)
The book was in print for many years, in both hardback and paperback versions. The author died in 1992. His niece has re-copyrighted it and brought it out in this “40th anniversary edition.” One thing that is amazing is how timeless it is. The story doesn’t feel dated at all although there aren’t any computers or cellphones. While modern 13 year old kids have more access to what it means to be gay (if they are), there are probably many who are just as confused and wondering as Davy. In that way, this book is a classic that’s still very contemporary. (Interestingly, I was telling my sister about this book. She wondered if it would be good for her 12 year old daughter and I said yes, but when I mentioned the gay storyline, she stopped asking. I wonder what that was about? LOL.)
A very nice feature of this newly re-issued book is a foreword by the author’s niece, Stacy Donovan, and three essays at the end by Brent Hartinger (author of The Geography Club), Martin Wilson (author of What They Always Tell Us, which I’ll be reviewing here soon), and Kathleen T. Horning, on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The essays are very interesting and provide a wonderful context for understanding the book, both in 1969 terms as well as the present day.
If you are at all like me, once you finish reading this, you’ll want to read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. She is the editor of this book as well as the aforementioned Harriet the Spy, Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are and many other books that I grew up with and loved. Reading I’ll Get There… now was like finding a missing piece to a puzzle that I started long ago.