Catie's Reviews > I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.

I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. by John Donovan
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really liked it
bookshelves: classics, read-in-2011, middle-grade, ya, lgbtqia, audio

4 1/2 stars

This is a brilliant young adult novel that manages to be hilarious, cynical, heartwarming, and devastating all at once. This book gets a lot of notoriety for being possibly the first novel written for teens to address homosexuality. That’s very interesting, groundbreaking, spectacular, and all that good stuff, but this book deserves to become a classic for so much more than that minor detail.

(Isn’t it great that that seems like a minor detail now? I don’t agree with the afterward written by Brent Hartinger – where he proclaims, “we’ve finally arrived” – but it is striking just how different our attitudes about homosexuality are today, compared to the attitudes of Davy’s world.)

Davy is thirteen years old and has lived a very insulated, happy life with his grandmother “a great old girl” and their dachshund Fred. When his grandmother dies very suddenly, his previously absent mother swoops in and takes him off to her tiny apartment in New York. As Davy learns to deal with his mother’s mood swings and his father’s straight-laced disconnect, he finds friendship with Altschuler, a charismatic, clever boy who’s also grieving.

Each character feels incredibly real. Even Davy’s mother, who drinks too much, moans about her wasted life, demands details about Davy’s visits with his father, and seems like a complete phony…still manages to garner my sympathy. She feels insecure, hollow, and desperate for approval. Davy’s father is more even-tempered and supportive, but still distant. He’s not willing to be a full-time parent.

Davy is innocent and sweet but also has very strong, ingrained values. He’s young enough to still have an imagination, but he’s realistic enough to see through his mother’s bullshit. He seems part little boy and part proper old lady, and it’s heartbreaking to see all that his grandmother has left behind, in the content of his character. Davy’s dog Fred is the only connection that he has left to his grandmother, and he treats him as if he were a person, which is often hilarious:

“’No Fred,’ I say. ‘Mother’s tired. She’s wasting her life for us, Fred. Right?’ I think Fred says, ‘wrong,’ except that I know Fred doesn’t speak English. Maybe he speaks German, right? Who knows?
Fred, I guess. And Germans.”

And occasionally sounds unintentionally dirty…(don’t click on this if you’d like to preserve the otherwise highbrow nature of this review and/or your faith in me as a mature adult--->)(view spoiler)

Altschuler at first seems like a moody bastard, and I thought, “Hey…even in 1969, it was easy to spot the YA love interest. Just look for the guy who treats the main character like dirt. Bingo!” But of course, he has hidden depths (the notorious hidden depths…that’s how they always get us). That guy on the cover with the intense stare and the stern eyebrows is definitely him.

At its core, this is a story about Davy's grief. It's about his loss of the one person in the world that truly understood him.

“And I think of all the reasons for my being here. I feel guilty as hell that I haven’t thought of grandmother for a long time. She’s the only person I may ever know I didn’t have to put on some big act around. She’s the only person I could be myself with. My mother and my father don’t know me yet, but I think of them more than I think of grandmother, who will be the most important person in my life forever, and they aren’t worth my not thinking of grandmother.”

This book really hit home for me, because my grandmother and I were incredibly close. I spent almost every summer living with her, and even during the school year, I would spend every Wednesday night at her house. We would watch A&E murder mysteries, give each other pedicures, and work out. My grandmother wasn’t perfect: she was always overly conscious of her appearance and a bit too direct. She hated goodbyes and was known to stand up mid-conversation, say a brusque “well, goodbye” and then walk out the door. The last time I saw her, when she had decided that she’d “had enough of this place anyway” she told me bluntly that I was her favorite grandchild.

She was the one person in my family that I could look at and say, “yeah…that’s where I came from.” Since she’s been gone, I feel disconnected from the rest of my family, like she was the adaptor that made me fit, and now I’m just incompatible.

When Davy loses his grandmother, he’s set adrift. He’s forced to deal with life-changing events – with his own developing identity and his grief over her loss– without anyone to really anchor him. He doesn’t quite know how to let his grief out, and it becomes displaced. His feelings for Altschuler become twisted with guilt and self-hatred. Fred is actually the closest ally that Davy has. It’s so moving to see Davy find hidden stores of bravery and integrity, and grow bit by bit. He must learn to risk himself and form new connections, but there are no guarantees.

The physical intimacy between Davy and Altschuler occurs almost completely off the page, and I do feel sad that in the world of 1969, homosexuality was relegated to the shadows. But, I would not classify this story as a romance. None of the poignancy of Davy's initial acceptance of their experimentation, and later turmoil, is lost.

Before starting this book, I was very excited to hear that it has a notoriously abrupt and ambiguous ending. It did not disappoint. This is a Catie ending if ever there was one. The ending is realistic - leaving us with a Davy who feels ashamed, but seems to be moving toward...not complete acceptance maybe, but some small understanding. But this is realistically not something that a thirteen year old would come to understand fully in the span of a few months, and I love that we're left with the unknown. It’s hard to know whether to be scared for Davy and the identity conflict that he’s eventually going to have to face, surrounded by people who’d rather he didn’t, or to be hopeful for him. When I think about my grandmother, and how much of her I still carry around; it makes me hopeful.

“Who do you want to be like?” Altschuler asks.

“Me,” I guess. “And guys like my grandmother. There was a great old girl.”

Perfect Musical Pairing

Rufus Wainwright – The Dream

There’s a very important scene in this book where Davy has a dream, and it immediately made me think of this song. I think that this is about the difference between real life, real love, and dreaming.
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Reading Progress

December 7, 2011 – Started Reading
December 7, 2011 – Shelved
December 9, 2011 –
page 97
December 9, 2011 – Shelved as: classics
December 9, 2011 – Shelved as: read-in-2011
December 9, 2011 – Shelved as: ya
December 9, 2011 – Shelved as: middle-grade
December 9, 2011 – Finished Reading
December 26, 2013 – Shelved as: lgbtqia
February 9, 2014 – Shelved as: audio

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana So, is there homosexuality in this books? You hardly even mentioned it! Or it was the smallest element of the story?

Catie Yes, it is a very small element of the story. Davy and Altschuler "make out" a couple of times, and Davy's mother finds them once, asleep on the ground in the dark and assumes "the worst." I would check out Phoebe North's Review. She does a lot better job than I did!

Catie Sorry to re-post this everyone, but after a friend of mine made a very insightful comment, I thought I'd better add in a bit more about the relationship in this book.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard I'm curious about this now. I'll be interested to see the difference between the 60s mentality and now.

Catie It's really great Cassi - and hilarious! I also recommend the audio. The narrator is PERFECT.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard Catie wrote: "It's really great Cassi - and hilarious! I also recommend the audio. The narrator is PERFECT."

Hmmm...I wonder if any of my local libraries would actually have this. (especially on audio). Off to check!

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