Two novels from the late 1960s dawn of “the new realism” have resurfaced. Will they find new readers? The first thing that strikes me about John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip (originally published by Harper in 1969) and June Jordan’s His Own Where (Crowell, 1971) is how short they seem—Donovan’s book is just under two hundred pages in its new paperback edition from Flux, and His Own Where, newly reissued in paperback by the Feminist Press, an even more slender ninety-two. And while each was viewed as groundbreaking in its time, they both seem kind of quiet in today’s world of high-concept YA. I’ll Get There is about a boy learning to live with his alcoholic mother after the death of his beloved grandmother; His Own Where is a tender romance between two black teens living on the rough side of Brooklyn. What got the Donovan attention was its matter-of-fact inclusion of a nascent homosexual relationship between the hero and another boy, and it was in later years vilified as one of several teen books with gay themes that used a car crash as a way of resolving the story. (What critics frequently missed was that many 1970s YA novels used a car crash as a way of resolving the story!) His Own Where was celebrated for its use of what was then called Black English, but as Horn Book editor Paul Heins pointed out, Jordan did more than that, “combining words and phrases of dialect in a stream-of-consciousness style that attempts to remove the barrier between words and experiences.”
With its allusive poetic style, His Own Where is the more lastingly radical of the two books, where I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip is more of a landmark, its influential place in the YA canon acknowledged by the three essays, all worth reading, appended to the Flux edition. Both books remind us that the big business of contemporary YA publishing began more than forty years ago with a very brave start.