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Happy Anniversary: I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.

Our new column celebrates noteworthy book anniversaries. I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. by John Donovan (1928–1992) was published by Harper & Row in 1969. It celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2019.

Happy birthday, I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.! You’re fifty years old in 2019 (and your young hero Davy would be my age, but let’s not think about that).

Your two-sentence name wasn’t the only thing that was startling when you came out (see what I did there?) in 1969. You were a children’s book, all right, but along with your siblings The Outsiders, The Pigman, Go Ask Alice, and Tuned Out, you heralded what came to be known first as “the problem novel” and later “the new realism,” a subgenre of realistic fiction for adolescents that was — relatively — frank and gritty in considering contemporary teenage life.

I’ll Get There, while you looked over your slender shoulder at The Catcher in the Rye with a first-person, present-tense narration (and you’re calling out “phonies” on page two, for Chrissake) about a boy with a difficult alcoholic mother, you also looked ahead with the muted but definite inclusion of some same-sex maybe-sex between Davy and his best friend, Altschuler. This was new, and even if the encounter was “just a phase,” at least it was a phase beyond absence (in books for young people) and demonization (in society at large). Remember, in those days Davy and Altschuler could have been arrested.

Unfortunately, you also, in your quaint problem-novel way, brought your plot to a climax with a car accident, a trope shared by many problem novels to come, but most notoriously in those in which homosexuality was a part of the story: The Man Without a Face, Sticks and Stones, Trying Hard to Hear You. The fact that the trope was noticed, ridiculed, and scrubbed relatively early on says something nice about changing times and brave librarians.

I wonder what you’d make of today’s queer YA — how much there is, the variety and diversity in it, the sex in it, the happiness in it. It owes you.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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Comments

  1. Ruth ketchum says:

    I read that book as a teen and I liked it. I didn’t get that there was a (homosexual) thing going on between the guys…what I did get was they saw things the way I did, they understood the world in a way I perceived as real and “close to home.” I didn’t realize my own Lesbian “tendencies” at the time I read it, much less their “Gayness.” But still it described my experience and connected me to theirs, even if I didn’t know why. So much of my experience of a book can be sub-conscious, adding complexity, depth…IF it’s a good one.

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