Author: John Donovan
Narrator: Michael Urie
Publication Year: 1969
Pages: 228 (audio length: 5 hours 27 minutes)
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com
From the cover:
When the grandmother who raised him dies, Davy Ross, a lonely thirteen-year-old boy, must move to Manhattan to live with his estranged mother. Between alcohol-infused lectures about her self-sacrifice and awkward visits with his distant father, Davy’s only comfort is his beloved dachshund Fred. Things start to look up when he and a boy from school become friends. But when their relationship takes an unexpected turn, Davy struggles to understand what happened and what it might mean.
I picked up this copy of I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. because of a sort of informal challenge with Cass, Amy, and Jodie to read all the LGBT YA books published in the 1970s. This book sort of started it all: it was published just before the rest (in 1969) and was groundbreaking at the time. So we decided to start our “challenge” there.
For me, it’s really hard to get these books where I’m currently living, so I’m going to have to settle for any format I can find. As luck would have it, Audible had a copy of this one, so I downloaded it and listened intensively for a few days this week. Once I started listening, I really wanted to just keep going, and I found myself trying to think of things I could do that would allow me to listen to the book at the same time (organizing paperwork, driving to the store, etc.).
Forty years after its publication, the story arc of I’ll Get There is quite predictable, so I found myself wanting to know how events and feelings would be portrayed, rather than wanting to know what would happen next. I loved the spare prose of Donovan and the way that his narrator, Davy, was fleshed out. His voice took over the book, and it was easy to imagine that I was inside the head of a very young boy going through the kinds of heart-wrenching life changes that he was encountering. I even felt the love and anguish of his relationships with the various other characters in the book, including his over-the-top relationship with his dog, Fred.
As for listening to the audiobook, I found that Urie did a lovely job of voicing Davey. I really felt like the voice of a young teenage boy was coming through. At times, though, his representation of the New York accent of Davy’s mother – in addition to her alcoholic sloshiness – was distracting. It felt a bit too over-the-top and stereotypical, though it’s entirely possibly that it would have felt that way due to the writing even without the affected voice characterization.
The one thing that I wanted to know most about this book was how queerness was represented in it. Given that it was written just before the 1970s, I honestly wasn’t expecting much in terms of today’s attitudes. I was pleasantly surprised in some ways and not so much in others. The way that Davy thinks about his sexuality, and the way that his mother reacts to even the slightest possibility that he might have done something with his male friend, left a lot to be desired. In particular, it was disheartening to read the way that something bad happened to Davy as “punishment” for his actions, and the way that Davy blamed himself for it. On the other hand, though, the way that his friend argued back that they hadn’t done anything wrong, and a particularly poignant reaction by Davy’s father when called over to “deal” with Davy by his mother, were much more progressive than I had been expecting. There was definitely a lot of tact used in representing the sexuality of the boys in the novel, and the feelings that Davy had towards himself and his future were left rather ambiguous in the end. We’ve definitely come a long way in the book world from this first book.
Overall, I rather liked I’ll Get There. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a teenager who is struggling with their identity, because it isn’t exactly the kind of positive message about their sexuality that I’d want them to receive. But as an adult, or for perhaps a more mature teen who could read it as a novel within its historical context, I think it’s a good read.