I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip is about a thirteen-year-old boy who starts to develop feelings for another boy at his new school. The book is widely considered the first gay young adult novel (although with the two main characters being thirteen years old, one could argue that this is technically a middle grade book).
At the beginning, Davy Ross is mourning the loss of his grandmother and is upset to learn he has to move to New York to live with his estranged mother, an alcoholic who is not on friendly terms with Davy’s father, a man who has just married for a second time. Davy’s best friend in the world is his dachshund, Fred, but at his new middle school, he makes a friend in the human form — a thirteen-year-old named Altschuler.
Over the course of many weeks, the two boys spend a lot of time together, culminating into an afternoon when they find themselves alone in Davy’s apartment and share a kiss on the hardwood floor. It’s not a moment that either treats as insignificant, but they also don’t make a big deal out of it either, until Davy’s mother catches them spooning one night a few weeks later and she demands to know what is going on between them. Davy starts to realize his feelings for Altshuler might be unnatural, but ultimately that he wants to keep his friendship with him in any way he can.
The theme of I’ll Get There is being true to yourself and finding comfort in your own skin. Davy is a confident teenage protagonist; like Nate in Better Nate Than Ever, he doesn’t let other people, including his parents, tell him what to do or whom to emulate. He starts to develop feelings for his best friend, but he doesn’t brood over it, doesn’t wallow in the uncertainty of being attracted to another boy, which is remarkable given that he is only thirteen years old and that this story takes place in 1969, decades before homosexual relationships were embraced by the majority of Americans.
Despite his confidence, though, he does suffer a moment of tragedy that makes him question his homosexual feelings; when his dog dies, he realizes that if he hadn’t been touching and kissing Altshulter, his mother wouldn’t have sent him to his room and wouldn’t have been the one to walk him outside and accidentally let him get run over. In the third part of the novel, Davy has to find comfort in his own skin by accepting that the violent act was random and not premeditated, and that his feelings toward Altshuler played no role in what happened to his dog.
In addition, like Better Nate Than Ever, this novel is about best friends, as well as strained relationships with parents. Just like Nate has someone who gets him and cares for him in the way of his theater-loving buddy Libby, Davy finds acceptance and love with Altshuler, who is unafraid to speak his mind and let Davy know the way he feels about him. Like Nate has to literally flee from his parents to find himself, Davy only feels truly happy when he is with Fred or Altshuler, and not with his parents, who both have their own problems and don’t treat Davy with the love and respect he deserves.
Why I Love This Book
The most striking aspect to Donavon’s novel is that it feels like something that could have been written this year. There isn’t one character or one plot development of I’ll Get There that dates it in any way. Even the writing style feels modern, with an intimate and casual first-person present-tense view into the mind of Davy. For example, Donovan writes,
Fred jumps all over both Father and me when we get home. Mother says she wants Father to stay for a drink with her, but he can’t he says, he and Stephanie have a dinner date in an hour, and he’s sorry.
Unlike something like The Goldfinch, which has stunning language in nearly every sentence of its nearly 800 pages, I’ll Get There is written simply, which is important particularly for books geared toward younger readers, partly because it makes it accessible, and partly because the straightforward language manages to get the deeper themes across more easily.
I also enjoyed, as in Better Nate Than Ever, how subtle the homosexuality factor is in this novel. There is nothing explicit that takes place between Davy and Altschuler, only kissing; they are thirteen, after all. Donavon does a stellar job introducing the sexual tension between the two teen boys by never taking it too far. Since this was the first gay young adult novel ever published, and considering that at the time committing homosexual deeds was illegal (except in Illinois), it was wise for Donavon to want to start a conversation about teen homosexuality, not a giant controversy.
In addition, I appreciated that Davy’s mother and father aren’t written as villains, even after they both question their son’s sexuality; they could have easily turned into one-note caricatures screaming at Davy for the final third of the book, which Donavon wisely avoided. In one scene, his mother comes home and finds him and Altschuler holding each other on the floor in the middle of the afternoon. After Altschuler leaves, she doesn’t beat up her son, or berate him for minutes on end. She is simply curious, and wants to know what her son is thinking.
The scene between Davy and his father is even better, in that there is no vindictiveness when the father questions him, and instead, he just wants to have an honest conversation with his son. Considering how many scenes have been written with closed-minded fathers screaming at their gay sons, it’s remarkable to note that the first gay YA novel has nothing of the sort.
Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency.