The jacket from the 1969 edition; Flux has not yet finalized its cover for the reissue.

Released in 1969, John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip tread on turf previously considered taboo in young adult publishing. Widely regarded as the first YA novel to touch on the topic of homosexuality, the book centers on a 13-year-old whose efforts to cope with his estranged mother lead to a close friendship with another boy. Originally published by Ursula Nordstrom at Harper & Row and reprinted by Dell in 1973, I’ll Get There will be reissued in a 40th-anniversary edition by Flux, the Minnesota-based publisher of young adult fiction. Due in fall 2010, the book will feature new cover art and will include a foreword by Stacey Donovan, the author’s niece, and essays by several authors whose lives have been affected by the novel.

Brian Farrey, acquisitions editor at Flux, notes that he first became aware of I’ll Get There just over a year ago, while reading a blog by Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. On her blog, “Worth the Trip,” named after Donovan’s book, she wrote what Farrey calls “a very nice post about the first time she read I’ll Get There and the impact it had on her.” Farrey was inspired to search out a used copy of the long out-of-print novel. He recalls, “I read it and it was brilliant, and I thought, ‘Why is this not still in print?’ ”

The editor then launched another search: to discover who held the rights to this novel. Donovan, who died in 1992, had a multifaceted career as lawyer, playwright, author, editor and longtime executive director of the Children’s Book Council. Farrey discovered that the University of Minnesota holds a collection of Donovan’s papers, and the staff there directed him to Paula Quint, Donovan’s successor at CBC, who informed him that the rights to I’ll Get There had reverted to Donovan’s estate. What Farrey refers to as “my ongoing detective work” then led him to Daniel Lazar at Writers House, who represents Donovan’s estate, from whom he acquired the rights to the novel.

Farrey’s sleuthing also revealed that in 1969 some of the people at Harper were “very nervous” about the novel’s content, which he calls “very tame” by today’s standards. “The actual homosexual incident, if you will, happens off-page,” he says. “But from what I gleaned, members of the Harper publicity department weren’t sure how to handle the book and played up other aspects of the novel. Even PW’s review danced around the topic.”

The editor has confidence in I’ll Get There’s continued relevancy. “We did not change a word of the text, but did add a line at the opening of the novel noting that it takes place in New York City in 1969, which is important to know. But the writing is not at all dated and the loneliness that the teenage protagonist feels is utterly timeless,” Farrey says.

“To say that this is a book about homosexuality is to not give this novel its due,” he adds. “It is a story about a lonely, confused boy trying to reach out to people to find a human connection—without knowing how to do that. That is something teens today can easily identify with.”