I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip

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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!

The Blurb:

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.

The Review:

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 original cover from 1969

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.

Highly recommended.

 

18 thoughts on “I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip

  1. Sirius

    Leslie, thank you so much, I want! But is the ending ambiguous as in tragic? Really not in the mood for the death right now (rarely am), but I think I may want to read this one now, to contrast with pretty painful YA read I just did and if it is tragic, could you please please email me and tell me so? Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

    1. Leslie Post author

      No, not tragic. At least not tragic for the humans (Davy and Altshuler) in the story. It’s just left completely open-ended and there is no clue where the characters might go…which to be honest (to me) is the hallmark of a perfect children’s book because it makes the reader use his/her imagination and figure out “what comes next.” And there many options as to what that might be.

      It makes me sort of wonder if there is Davy and Altshuler fanfic/slash out there. They are the perfect characters for all sorts of future stories. LOL.

      L

      1. Sirius

        Oh I think in the children’s book I would even prefer an open ended ending like what you are describing. Not only because as you said it makes the reader use his/her imagination, but it also would feel fake to me if (how old are they?) thirteen? fourteen?, would find the love of their lives at this tender age, you know? :)

        Not that it can not happen sometimes, but they have their whole lives ahead and who knows where the journey will lead them.

        Thanks Leslie.

        1. Leslie Post author

          Precisely. I don’t think they are thinking about love per se, they are thinking about, “Who am I? Who will I be when I grow up?” and realizing that friends are an important part of that process.

          L

          1. Sirius

            I loved it Leslie, five stars from me as well, thank you so much for the recommendation and the book :)

  2. LynnFlewelling

    I read this a few years after it came out, when I was about 13 or 14, at camp. It was a revelation (as were Mary Renault’s books not long after) and certainly helped shape my positive attitude toward homosexuality. I’m so glad it’s back in print, and look forward to reading it again to find out what went over *my* head. Thanks for the great review!

    1. Leslie Post author

      Camp reading is great, isn’t it? One of my all time favorite books Watership Down I read for the first time at camp (I was a counselor). I think there is something about being away from day-to-day life, TV, etc., that makes all those memories so special.

      If you read this book again, Lynn, please check back and let me know what you think of it. And thanks for the compliment on my review!

      L

  3. Pea

    Thank you for the recommendation. I read Isabelle Holland’s The Man Without a Face when I was about 15, but I can’t remember reading anything else as a teen with any sort of gay theme. I’m quite interested in reading this one. (I was just thinking about Harriet the Spy the other day – that book was never one of my favorites, but one of the sequels, Sport, is still on my bookshelves somewhere.)

    1. Leslie Post author

      While I loved Harriet the Spy, I loved Fitzhugh’s next book, The Long Secret even more. That was another groundbreaker because it mentioned menstruation, which frankly, I needed at that time! Fitzhugh was a lesbian and people have alluded to gay themes in her stories (Bunny in TLS is obvious) but Donovan is more overt.

      I never read Sport. Fitzhugh had some sort of falling out with Nordstrom (not at all clear from the letters what the issue was), went to a different publisher who didn’t do her books justice (IMHO). She died much too young from a cerebral aneurysm with manuscripts unfinished and stories untold. So sad…

      L

      1. Pea

        Sport is very lighthearted compared to Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret. I believe it was published posthumously. I think when I was a child I found the characters’ actions and motives in Harriet a little unpleasant – in retrospect, perhaps too realistic? I probably would enjoy the book much more now than I did as a 10 year old. I missed any gay themes in the stories, though! I will have to pick it up again. Nordstrom’s letters sound fascinating – thanks for that link as well.

        1. Leslie Post author

          Yes, Sport was published poshumously in 1979. However, in the Nordstrom letters, there was a letter to Fitzhugh, dated August 8, 1966 discussing the manuscript and another mention of it in a 1969 letter. Nordstrom had a contract for the book but then something happened–no one seems to know what.

          Sport is available in a Kindle edition, so of course, I had to buy it–as well as Harriet and The Long Secret. Now I have all three. Kindle shopping is dangerous! LOL.

          L

  4. Jaye Valentine

    I read this book a long, long, long time ago (about the same time I was experimenting with composing Kirk/Spock porn). I had already “come to terms” as we used to say back in the day, but I can appreciate how this story motivated readers.

    Thanks for taking a step back in time to review this work, Leslie.

    –Jaye

    P.S. I much prefer the original cover art.

    1. Leslie Post author

      Hey Jaye, thanks for your comment…

      The step back in time was fun. As for the cover, the 1969 version is so fabulously retro that it is perfect, isn’t it? The kids on the new one look too modern but that’s probably an arguable point.

      L

  5. K. Z. Snow

    Leslie, I’m so glad you’re taking the time to ferret out older or self-published gems that might otherwise go unnoticed by m/m romance readers. Thank you!

    That said, I’m not sure I could give this one the appreciation it seems to deserve. Although I’ve recently come to enjoy YA stories, I’ve probably been spoiled by more contemporary maturity levels. That doesn’t mean I need sloppy buckets full of sex, just more awareness, I guess, on the part of the protagonist(s).

    Hm. :???: Have to give this more thought and maybe read an excerpt.

    1. Leslie Post author

      I would say the protagonists were pretty aware, particularly Altschuler who knew exactly what was going on and didn’t have a problem with it. Davy was more questioning. But it was all done very realistically and like I said, it didn’t feel dated at all.

      The essays at the end were a terrific bonus. I learned a great deal from them. While the story was great, the essays were definitely the frosting on the cake.

      L

  6. Reggie

    Thanks Leslie for reviewing this book here. I checked my local library and they have several of this edition in the system. They are all checked out at the moment. LOL
    I’ll keep a look out for it in the fall after school starts. :grin:

    Thanks again– appreciate it!

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