Author: John Donovan
Genre: YA/ Contemporary/LGBT
Publication Date 40th anniversary edition – September 2010
Paperback: 240 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Why did I read this book: The book had been under my radar since I heard that Flux was reissuing it.
How did I get this book: ARC from BEA.
Warning: this review contains spoilers
I picked up an ARC of I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip at BEA after reading about it on their website. This edition is the 40th anniversary edition of the book, first published in 1969 and it is recognised as the first LGBT YA mainstream novel to have addressed homosexuality in a positive manner.
This edition also includes 3 interesting essays by Brent Hartinger (Geography Club), Martin Wilson (What They Always Tell Us), and Kathleen T. Horning (Director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center), with a foreword by Stacey Donovan (Dive) niece of the author. These essays provide perfective and context for when the novel was first published and its importance seems to be twofold both on YA and LGBT contexts. With regards to the former, the majority of books for children or Young Adults at the time seemed to resort to storytelling for an idealised youth, with a tendency for moral lessons and this book offers a realistic portrayal of a teenage boy. As for the latter, suffice to say that the book was published only a few months before the Stonewall Riots and at that time, homosexuality was still classified as a psychological disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and was a crime in the majority of the estates.
Important Historical context aside, what is the book about?
About Davy, a 13yo boy, whose parents divorced when he was a kid and who ended up being raised by his grandmother. The book opens in the aftermath of his grandmother’s funeral with his family fighting over what is to become of Davy and he ends up having to move to NY to live with his self-centred, unstable, alcoholic mother. Luckily for Davy, he has his Dachshund (named Fred) , who is his best pal, with him. The story progresses to include Davy’s growing attachment to his father, who also lives in NY, and to Fred, his difficult relationship with his mom; and his budding friendship with a guy from school, Douglas Altshuler, a relationship that might grow into more after the two boys share a (very tame) kiss one day and a second (fade-to-black) making out session.
The book’s strengths lie with Davy’s , keen, earnest, first person narration. From his amazing relationship with his dog, observations of life in NY, from his assessment of his mother’s personality to his friendship with Altshuler, the narrative allows for a connection with the kid, a connection that reaches its peak when
– *AND HERE LIES THE SPOILER* –
Fred, his beloved dog dies. Of course he does. Now, I am not a dog person, I am not a fan of animals in books, because more often than not, I feel that these are needlessly exploitative and usually end up in death and tears. But Fred’s death got me in such a way, I cried a lot along with Davy.
But Fred’s death, I think serves as an important metaphor within the story. Because it happens after Davy and Altshuler made out twice, Davy reaches a tremendous, horrible conclusion: that it is HIS fault that Fred died and it is his punishment for doing “queer things” with Altshuler. Mind you, before Fred died, Davy didn’t really think a lot about their kisses. To him it was just something that happened and he tells himself:
“It’s not dirty , or anything like that. It’s all right, isn’t it?”
The fact the he doesn’t think, he doesn’t feel that it is something dirty is positive in itself as it comes from inside. To me, then, Fred’s death and its ensuing conflict present Davy with external conflict, forces that are beyond his control: the downright negative view of homosexuality from the world the lives in. It is a wakeup call that inasmuch he is ok with the way he feels, the outside world may not be, after all being queer at that time, is a crime, is “wrong”. Fred’s death marks the moment in which Davy quits being a child, and enters adulthood and examines his feelings for Altshuler in light of what happened. It is a struggle, it comes with guilt, and his mother’s homophobia doesn’t help. But even though Davy lost his best friend and ally – yes, ally because Fred LOVED Altshuler as well, he is not alone. The most surprising conversation in the book happens between Davy and his father who proves to be open and reassuringly understanding. And of course, the talk between Davy and Altshuler when a very firm, self-confident Altshuler tells him to get a grip, Fred’s death is not his fault and
“Go ahead and feel guilty if you want to. I don’t.”
The book ends with a conversation with Altshuler and regardless of what happens next, they agree to at the very least respect each other and remain friends. Whether they become a couple is open for interpretation and it doesn’t really matter, they are only 13 after all. But the title to me is a clue: Davy will get there, to a positive place of self-acceptance which Altshuler seems to have already reached. And the trip will not be an easy one: friends will leave; his mother will not accept it but he has allies, he is not alone and in the end, it will be worth it. And I think it is awesome, that such a positive, intelligent book for Young Adults was written AND published when it was. That alone, makes the book way worth reading.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Davy and his father:
“Then Father talks a lot about how hysterical people sometimes get when they discover that other people aren’t just what they are expected to be. He tells me there are Republicans who are always secretly disappointed when friends turn out to be Democrats, and Catholics who would like their friends to be Catholic, and so forth. He says that such people are narrow-minded he believes, and funny, too, unless they become hysterical about getting everyone to be just alike. Then they are dangerous. They become religious bigots, super-patriots, super-anti-patriots, and do I understand? I tell him I think I do, but can’t people learn to understand other people? He thinks they can, but only if they want to.
Verdict: A groundbreaking novel for Young Adults and historical context aside, a pretty good one too. Well written, bittersweet and with flawed, realistic characters. I loved it.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Freak Show by James St James