I’ve often judged songs by how quickly they raise a line of goosebumps up my arm, or how reliably a chorus line or a high note creates a tightness in my throat. It’s instinctual and instantaneous. There are a handful that still elicit such a reaction after the hundredth or thousandth time listening. In the last year that has included Demi Lovato's “Anyone,” Paramore’s “Daydreaming” or “Last Hope” or “The Only Exception,” The Head and the Heart’s “Library Magic.” My affinity for this or that genre, or artist, is flexible and ever-changing depending on my mood and my need, either for something catchy and uplifting, or more emotionally cathartic. Post-COVID I’ve leaned far into the latter, harboring a desire to wail along often, loudly and offkey, to shake off my anxiety.
For a few months every year though, I “forget” about all of the music taking up space on my phone. The pressure to outperform my own reading goal each year pushes me to lose myself in audiobooks and paperbacks during every spare second of every day. I love getting lost between pages but it’s not always conducive to a relaxing life, perpetually striving to do something that feels productive. When I inevitably peak, right on the edge of burnout, I remember the playlist I last had on repeat and blast it again the next time I go to the grocery store. Then after so long away, it’s like being dunked in a pool of cold water. I break out in song at random intervals over the next several days, letting the beats of Young the Giant (or The Decemberists or Lady Gaga or Florence + the Machine or The Struts or, throwing it way back, maybe All Time Low or Fall Out Boy; I feel like I obviously have a very niche interest that’s developed over time from screaming emo into folksy emo?) vibrate through me on my way to the coffee machine or out into the sunshine at the end of a workday. The bliss that accompanies each re-discovery of my old favorites never feels less revelatory, and I always feel silly for letting my love of music get overshadowed for so long.
“God Made Man” by Young the Giant just came on as I was writing and I had to stop and close my eyes to fully appreciate it. I’m just now coming through to the other side of having remembered how much I like listening to music which was further emphasized by finding new artists to love. Usually this moment overtakes me just as I’ve arrived somewhere and parked my car. I’ve made myself late taking an extra few minutes to bathe in the music. I’ve sung along in subway tunnels, on the streets, in offices, if the song requires it. I made four CDs full of mixes for my party bus to junior prom. I outlined at least two hours worth of music I had to hear at my wedding reception. I used to seek out windy roads through woods just to have enough time alone with a new album. I share all of that to highlight how un-hyperbolic I am when I say I love music and how disappointed I always am to let my stressors drive a wedge in between me and the bands waiting in my earbuds. I want to emphasize how much I’ve been looking forward to another story with music at the heart.
Do you remember the last book that made you cry? It happens more and more often for me, as I age I’m more often swayed by either the joy or the sadness of the book at hand. As I finished It Goes Like This, in bed and in tears, I was pleasantly surprised by how invested I’d become in the complexities of the ex-bandmates that once made up Moonlight Overthrow. I quietly weeped, happy tears, at this story’s conclusion.
“Her fingers press down on the keys. All of a sudden, it’s quiet, far quieter than any performance she’s done in a long, long time. No one is singing along, because no one can: no one knows the lyrics but her. She lets her eyelids flutter closed. Her brain filters out the ambient noise, until the keys and her voice are the only sounds that exist in the world. To her left, the audience is watching, listening to every new note; straight ahead, unless she’s moved, is Celeste. Right here, strong in her chest and light in her fingertips, is the song.”
Just a chapter in I couldn’t help but make comparisons to The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes, another novel with a pop band at the heart of the story. Miel Moreland’s young adult interpretation here of a band’s breakup wasn’t as dark, clearly built for a younger audience, but it still felt nostalgic even as, in contrast to Cassidy Holmes, the characters of It Goes Like This are more firmly rooted in the present, just a few years past the breakup. And of course, it’s also refreshingly queer.
“Celeste can’t stay with her. You don’t stay with your teenage girlfriend, you know? First loves don’t get a happy ending. Especially not in Hollywood. First loves crash. First loves burn out. Celeste can’t breathe sometimes with how easy it is, how much she loves Eva, how much every part of her life is twisted up in her. It’s too much. She needs to know if she can make music without Eva.”
Eva is in college, Celeste is on tour with her latest solo album, Gina is acting in major projects, and Steph stays out of the spotlight, back in their shared hometown of Duluth. Then a storm hits and though Steph and their family are okay, there was plenty of damage done to the rest of the city. Just as each of them are starting to warm up to reconnecting as friends, they’re invited, as Moonlight Overthrow, to headline a benefit concert in and for Duluth. Though Eva especially is hesitant to see Celeste, who was her ex-girlfriend as well as ex-bandmate, she and the rest agree to do the show. It’s the perfect time for them to let out some of the secrets and regrets they’d been holding onto and remember what it was like to have the relationship the foursome had once. Still barely adults, there’s plenty of time to heal—and even to get back to making music if they want to. But that’s the question looming above them. Do they want to?
The book jostles back and forth changing POVs between the foursome, appropriately utilizing texts and Tumblr. The diverse cast speaks for themselves allowing for a strong presentation. Anyone who’s ever been touched by the magic of music will find a place amongst these young stars. Their passion ebbs realistically as life gets in the way of perfection and even blocks out the possibility of achieving dreams while presenting opportunities for new ones…. It’s easy, as a reader, to fall in with the band even as they try to figure out if they can still come together to be one.
“Every tweet feels like an apology, even though she’s technically replying to fans, strangers, not Celeste. Like if Gina can pour out enough support tonight, it will make up for her silence for two album releases, for Celeste‘s first solo tour – for birthdays and holidays and just because. That’s what friends do: show up just because. And yet… It didn’t feel possible to stay friends with both Celeste and Eva simultaneously, and reaching out to one would have felt like picking sides. How do you choose which third of your heart to follow?”
Like for any of us non-celebrities, the struggles of maintaining friendships as your priorities change is center stage (pun intended). Making bad decisions or picking fights due the frustration and confusion surrounding those struggles are so believable that it’s easy to forget that Eva or Gina aren’t actually my friends confiding in me. Steph’s uncertainty during their band days and their resolute demand at being taken seriously as decidedly themself, meaning NOT one of the girls, is breathtaking in its realness as another pillar of growing up. Steph, Gina, Celeste, Eva: they are all uniquely them even as their star studded former lives may have tried to mold them into people they weren’t meant to be.
“What if the others don’t sound the same? What if they do? Steph knows nothing about their new lives beyond grocery store magazine headlines. What if Eva hates Steph? What if Celeste and Gina think their quiet life is… lesser? But Pip said they’d all say yes. Steph clings to that. And if they do say no – Steph’s asking for Duluth. Steph’s not asking for themself. It won’t be personal. It won’t hurt. It will, and they want it anyway.”
The way they handle it all, individually and together again, is rather inspiring to behold and even more so when considering their ages. It’s books like these that make me keep coming back to the young adult genre. There’s so much power to be witnessed—young protagonists shouldn’t be underestimated. And for the authors like Miel Moreland who are just getting started painting all the lovely storylines we youngish adults wished for when we were teens, it’s an honor to watch their writing evolve just like our favorite characters do. I can’t wait to read (and cry joyfully to) what Moreland publishes next.
It Goes Like This
By Miel Moreland
352 pages. 2021.
Buy it now from our Bookshop in the US.