by Shawn Patrick Doyle
Since few books are ever released in a 40th Anniversary Edition, John Donovan’s I’ll get there. It better be worth the trip. must be considered foundational and timeless. This new edition is packaged with two reflective essays by Bret Hartinger and Martin Wilson, who touchingly relay their own experiences with the book and locate its place in literary history as the first young adult book to deal openly with a homosexual relationship. Even after gay teen literature has gone through a period of increased sales and acceptance, both still claim it as one of the best works in the field. Indeed, the book feels as fresh today as it must have years ago due to Donovan’s skill as a writer.
The novel tells the story of David Ross, a thirteen-year-old whose life is thrown into turmoil when his grandmother, with whom he has lived since he was five, dies of a heart attack. Following the death, the scattered members of David’s family return for the funeral and to decide with whom David should live; lacking any better plan, David moves to New York City to live with his mother, an alcoholic writer who feels her talents are going to waste in advertising. David finds adjustment to city and apartment life overwhelming both for himself and his closest confidant, his pet dachshund Fred. After time, David befriends a popular, athletic schoolmate named Altschuler. The two eventually discover and explore their mutual attraction to each other and share a confused kiss that forces both to confront their identities as a homosexuals at a time when the gay rights movement did not yet exist.
The book’s continued freshness is largely a product of the depth and roundness of its characters. Donovan does a great job of nailing the loneliness and dislocation that thirteen-year-old David feels in a new city; he is someone we immediately identify with and root for. Yet Donovan extends the opportunity to identify with and feel sympathy for every character, including David’s alcoholic, mercurial mother. Even smaller roles (such as the class clown Malcolm and the younger student Frankie Menlo, who idolizes David) feel genuine because Donovan is honest and insightful about their desires and their flaws. Reading through all of these character’s stories, one gets the sense of a real, complex world.
The final quarter of the book is heart-rending due to both a series of tragic events and the weight of the challenges that lie before David and Altschuler. Still, Donovan wisely never drifts towards melodrama or saccharine moralizing. The author offers no easy answers to the obstacles David faces, yet he leaves the reader with the sense that there are answers to be found.
In the records of young adult literary history, I’ll get there. It better be worth the trip. will be remembered for dealing with a controversial topic long before it was acceptable or even fashionable to do so. Yet in grand balance, the fact that makes the novel such a powerful read is David’s relatability as a lost and confused teen. While the 40th-anniversary essays aptly focus on the sense of kinship that gay teens have found after reading about David, I wonder if future anniversary editions of the book might focus on the book’s relevance to all teen readers.
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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2011 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2011