Critical Evaluation

In a book review in Commonweal of I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip. by John Donovan, reviewer L.P. Scanlon professes that “it [the novel] could only be found objectionable by the most narrow-minded of little old librarians from Iowa” (Scanlon, 1969, p. 300).   Most readers of the novel would agree.  Upon release, the book was viewed as a novelty, the first to address the sexual discovery and homosexuality in the context of adolescence.  Today, readers regard the book as canonical within the LGBT literary genre, as it is considered a must read for enthusiasts of the LGBT literature.            

 Prior to releasing the novel, publishers at Harper and Row wanted to ensure a positive public reception of the piece.  In attempt to garner support for the novel’s controversial content, Ursula Nordstrom, publisher and editor in chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row from 1940 to 1973, contacted Dr. Frances Ilg, director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, Yale University and Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone, authority on sex education of Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) for advance quotes to put on the book’s jacket. In a letter to Ilg, Nordstrom wrote, “ I do not need to tell you that the book will meet with considerable resistance with certain influential persons in the children’s book field.  Yet surely this is an experience [homosexual feelings] many boys have, and one that worries and frightens them badly… Our book will be the first. And of course I want to do everything we can to get it past the adults (Marcus, 1998, p. 261).  Nordstrom’s concern about the novel’s reception is evidence of the society’s view of homosexuality in 1969.  Fortunately for Nordstrom and Donovan, Dr. Ilg provided an advance comment for publication, which praised the novel for addressing the issue of sexual discovery.  The validation of the novel by Dr. Ilg and other experts on sexuality helped to legitimize the text amongst authorities in the children’s literature field. 

While the critical reception of I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip. was mixed the public reception was relatively positive.  Readers enjoyed the honesty of the text with many making comparisons to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.  In an unpublished review on Goodreads.com, a social networking website, in which users are able to interact and discuss books, one reader describes his personal experience with the text as significant and relatable. Ian, a homosexual fan of the novel, read it as young man in 1969 and found comfort in Davy’s experience.    As he reflected upon his reading experience, he stated, “As I read the book I found that I related to Davy in so many ways; I was an only child, a lonely child, the child of a very dysfunctional marriage (including an alcoholic parent) and was feeling the awakenings of my own homosexuality. In short, reading this book was one of the most profound experiences of my adolescence and it has stayed with me throughout my life” (Goodreads.com, 2012).  Other readers enjoyed Donovan’s masterful storytelling and realistic characterization of adolescence, specifically that of his main character Davy, a witty, honest, and introspective teenager, who is attempting to navigate his way through self-discovery and a challenging home life. In a another unpublished review, a female reader, provides insights into why she considers this book a classic, she asserts that “this [I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip] is a brilliant young adult novel that manages to be hilarious, cynical, heartwarming, and devastating all at once” (Goodreads.com, 2011).  She goes on to say that while the book receives its notoriety because of its homosexual content, it is more than that and it should be recognized for the quality of the content not the homosexual theme.  Despite the enthusiasm by younger readers of the text, some adults found the books content problematic. 

Francis Clark Sayers, former superintendent of work with children at the New York Public Library, was one of those concerned adults.  Following the release of I’ll Get There., Sayers wrote Donovan personally to vocalize her issues with the text.  According Leonard Marcus, editor of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, Sayers objected the “‘new realism’, of which she considered his first novel a prime example. Sayers believed that such books robbed children of the period of innocence to which they were entitled” (p. 281). Like many adults and experts of children’s content, Sayers assumes that children are unaware of life problems and mature content and seeks to shield them from that content instead of allowing them to explore and learn.  Donovan responded to Sayers in defense of his novel, stating that innocence is a luxury that most people in contemporary society could not afford to indulge in (p.281).  Unfortunately, in 1969 when the novel was published many adult readers could not see beyond the homosexual content in the book.  Instead of viewing the story as a tale of adolescent experience, they chose to focus on a singular aspect of the novel and not to view the piece as a whole.  However, young readers were able to find value in Donovan’s story that goes beyond the homosexual content represented in the piece, they were able to relate the coming of age experience and life altering obstacles faced by Donovan’s young protagonist. 

Today, I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. is more celebrated than it was upon release.  Retrospectively speaking, readers of the text are able to see the text for more than it homosexual content.  In fact, in comparison with the LGBT literature being published today, the book is viewed as modest and doesn’t seem nearly as controversial as it did in 1969.  In fact, many critics no longer classify it as a novel with a homosexual theme.  According to Don Latham, author of “Are We There Yet? A Retrospective Look at John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.”, authorities on homosexual literature such as Allen A. Cusso, have deemed Davy’s story “ a novel of friendship that is misconstrued as homosexual” (p.43).  Readers today seem feel similarly, as the book was recently revived from out of print status and released in 2010 as 40th Anniversary Edition.  Many new readers appreciate the book for its groundbreaking relevancy but don’t see it as a homosexuality themed novel.  One such reviewer, Phoebe North points out that she wouldn’t categorize the novel as LGBT literature, “because, in fact, the ‘queering around’ (as Davy refers to it) does not occur until almost two thirds into the narrative, and it's really a very small—though important—part of Davy's journey” (Goodreads.com, 2011).  North is accurate is in her assessment as the homoerotic references in the book are never described in the novel and are only vaguely referenced by the narrator on a couple of occasions.  The limited depiction of homosexuality was due to the time period and the publisher’s influence. 

My personal sentiments about the text are similar to Don Latham’s.  The “homosexuality” in I’ll Get There.  It Better Be Worth The Trip. is very minor aspect of Davy’s personal journey through adolescence.  While his relationship with Altschuler is important one, the most important aspect of that relationship is the friendship that fosters between the two.  Initially, when the two meet, they bond because Davy has just lost his grandmother and Altschuler’s friend Larry is ill and near death.  Additionally, as noted on the Critical Reception page, both boys are products of divorced homes and without their fathers. There relationship is one that stems from their loneliness and their “making out” seems more like the common experimentation of adolescence than a homosexual relationship.  In fact, neither Davy nor Altschuler ever characterize or classify their feelings. Both boys seemed confused about their intimate encounters and Davy often ponders if the activity between the two is in fact unnatural.  Davy feels so comfortable with his experimentation that he confesses to his behavior to his father, in his declaration he states, “I’m not queer or anything, if that’s what you think…  We only made out once” (Donovan, 1969, p.166).   Davy’s self-awareness in the novel is one of his defining characteristics, therefore, when he contends that he is not “queer”, I believe him.  Davy seems to understand that his intimacy with Altschuler was a result of the boys’ longing for companionship and love. 

As a reader, I most related to the loneliness that loss that was eminent throughout the text.  In fact, the most harrowing part of the novel was the unfortunate death of Fred, Davy’s beloved Dachshund, as Davy’s relationship with Fred was by far the most important in the novel.  Unfortunately, many of the novel’s initial critics focused on the “homosexuality”, making that the book’s legacy and sadly without the “homosexuality the book may never reached mass popularity.           

Readers of I’ll Get There.  It Better Be Worth the Trip. value the novel because it paved the way for LGBT issues in young adult literature.  Fans of the text are more impressed with the quality of the writing and vivid portrayals of adolescence, and while many were able to connect with the homosexual content, it is not the most distinguishing characteristic of the novel. 

 

References

Book Review: I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip. (2011 December 12).  Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/244192158

Book Review: I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip. (2011 December 12).  Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/263414517.

Latham, D. (2001).  “Are We There Yet? A Retrospective Look at John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.” The ALAN Review, 29 (1): 42-47.     

Marcus, L. S. (2000).  Dear genius: The letters of Ursula Nordstrom.  New York:  HarperCollins.

North, P. (2011 April 23).  Book Review: I’ll Get There.  It Better Be Worth the Trip. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/158544349.

Scanlon, L.  (1969, May 23). Book review.  Commonweal, 90, 300.

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