A decade after its initial release by Sourcebooks Fire, My Life with the Walter Boys, a YA novel written by Ali Novak, has been adapted for the screen by Netflix. The series premiered with little fanfare on December 7, 2023, but has become an unexpected hit with subscribers to the streaming service. According to Netflix’s statistics for its top shows for the week of December 3–10, 2023, The Walter Boys was number two, behind Leave the World Behind, an adaptation of the 2020 novel by Rumaan Alam. Between December 10–17, the audience for The Walter Boys spiked, with a 70% increase in viewing hours, and it remained at the top spot for two weeks. It dropped back to the number two spot for the week of December 24–31 (the last week for which statistics are available).
In the coming-of-age romance, 15-year-old Jackie Howard’s entire family dies in a car accident in New York City, which forces her to relocate from Manhattan to rural Colorado to live with her legal guardians. There, she takes up residence with the Walter family, headed by George, a rancher, and Katherine, a veterinarian. The Walters have seven sons and a daughter.
While the show’s impressive and immediate viewership might have surprised many, it does not surprise those who have been closely following the book’s trajectory—including its author, who wrote The Walter Boys in 2009–2010 when she was 15 years old. Novak, who says she “always wanted to be an author” and “writing is [her] life,” initially published the book on Wattpad. “It blew up,” she recalled. “It was read five million times after I first posted it and continued to find traction.” The tale is “wish fulfillment” for many YA readers, she said. “A teenage girl surrounded by hot boys, some of whom are interested in her.” By the time she took down the Wattpad version last year, it had been read 80 million times.
Sourcebooks, which published the book in 2014 and reissued it in 2019, reports that sales of both editions and in all formats “are well over 150,000 units,” according to The Walter Boys editor Wendy McClure.
McClure speculates that many of the Netflix viewers are people who’d already read the book. “They might have read it 10 years ago, in high school, and now they’re going back, connecting with it on another level,” she said. “I think the TV show is doing a great job, speaking to a broad audience. Romance is going on with the teens but there’s also stuff going on with the adult characters. And the new [viewers] who are just discovering the characters are connecting emotionally with them.”
Emphasizing that the “television show is picking up on what is so great about the book,” McClure added, “There’s so much longing in The Walter Boys: Jackie loses her family, and then has to go to a new place and a new school. She’s living with all these boys, and one of them is incredibly infuriating. There are so many emotional connections going with so many age groups. I was immediately pulled in when I watched it.”
For his part, Alexander Slater, Novak’s agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, considers that the “most interesting thing about The Walter Boys’ journey” is that it “has electrified every medium, from being a sensation online, to a beloved traditionally published book, to now, one of the top shows on television. We could turn this novel into a musical and it would be a success, because it’s a timeless story with characters you can’t forget.”
As for Novak, she appreciates the positive response for the series, which already has been renewed for a second season of 10 episodes on Netflix. “It’s bringing new attention to my work and opening other doors for me,” she said. Noting that The Walter Boys has “an open-ended” conclusion, she said that she is considering writing a sequel.
In addition, Novak has written a YA series, the Heartbreakers Chronicles, which also was initially published on Wattpad and acquired by Sourcebooks. Two of the books in the series have been released—The Heartbreakers in 2015 and Paper Hearts in 2017—and Sourcebooks intends to reissue those as well as release the final two volumes in the Heartbreakers Chronicles to capitalize on The Walter Boys’ popularity.