Think back to the first time a pop song saw right through you. My song was MIKA’s “Love Today.” Every time I hear it, I’m transported back to the first time that infectious riff poured through the mess hall at a Christian camp in Michigan and I wondered for a second if I’d gone straight to Heaven. When I wondered how something like this ended up on a Christian pump-up playlist. When I gave in and danced, singing the body electric through every vein in my body, not caring whether anybody saw (or didn’t see).
It’s astounding to me how perfectly Will Walton’s debut novel Anything Could Happen captures that feeling, telling a story within, about, and made of that sense that someone out there knows how you feel. For Tretch Farm, the novel’s fifteen-year-old protagonist, there’s nothing more important than that he be seen and known (and overlooked and misapprehended). He’s gay–and he knows he’s gay–in a small Georgia town with a main street you’ll recognize if you’ve ever lived in the middle of America. He’s gay and keeping it a secret, like the dances he choreographs to Taylor Swift songs behind his closed bedroom door. Because despite believing deep down the ones he loves most would still love him if he told them, he’s from hiding something else.
Tretch Farm is in love with his best friend, Matt Gooby. His straight best friend, Matt Gooby.
Taking a setup straight from the Hollywood rom-com gods we wish existed, with classic YA bildungsroman wrapped around it, Walton builds a new story about finding the words to express the possibilities we receive and project from the music we encounter when we’re young and trying to hide (and hoping to be found). But Tretch’s story is never just a story about secrets, never only about his fantasies, that pulse with every bit of intensity and appeal as the Ellie Goulding hit the book is named for. Like the best pop songwriters, Walton taps into a common experience and cracks it open with new specificity, a prism bending fictive light.
Tretch’s story isn’t just like pop music–it’s about discovering yourself in it. In Anything Could Happen, what Tretch and those around him are reading, watching, and listening to hint at the second stories inside them. Through Tretch’s eyes, we experience art–and passion for it–and process it like only he would. Tretch’s narration, like his dances and his passion for pop, is both an intimate encounter with a yet-nascent inner self and a connection to a vibrant world outside his mind.We see who Tretch is (or how he’s seen) reflected back to him in his relationships with others, like Matt’s two dads*, his farming grandpa, and Lana Kramer, the girl who is totally crushing on Tretch.
In Walton’s observant prose, we enter family holidays layered with the warmth of tradition and care, and double date scenarios with all the awkwardness that only high school freshmen can muster. Along the way, Tretch discovers he’s not the only one in his small town or his family with complicated feelings, and learns to accept love in its many-splendored forms. Sometimes these moments come as Tretch tells the truth about himself, but just as often, he’s opening himself to another’s confusion or grief, and all the poignant possibility that comes along with new insight. That these revelations are as varied as a quiet talk on a shopping trip to an epiphany while delivering a breech calf in the dark** shows a versatility to Walton’s imagination that had me eager for his next book while desperately hoping for more pages in his first.
Anything Could Happen is every first love pop song you’ve ever lost your heart to, and an exciting new story just waiting for you to discover it and fall in love. Read it, and dance your heart out, like no one’s watching, like everyone’s watching, like you see yourself whole and know exactly where you belong.
* Matt’s dads, Ron and Landon, run the arthouse cinema 30 minutes away from Tretch’s home town that I’m desperate to visit, if only to hear them tell their respective stories about first watching the 1976 King Kong. And maybe to compare favorite Taylor Swift songs. I’m a big fan of The Dads Gooby. ↩
** !!!!!! Not something you read about in your everyday YA book, especially a queer one. ↩ *
** Will Walton and Connor Joel are friends, but all the opinions here are Connor Joel’s.