Sixteen-year-old Michie lives with her grandmother and hopes to get into her dream college, but the scholarship essay is a difficult one to write, especially when she shares a complicated relationship with her mother. Derek is the new kid at this high school and very much interested in Michie. Both are absolute sweethearts and the romance is adorable. With nuanced themes of identity and socioeconomic standings, this young adult contemporary romance —a debut set to release on 26 July, 2022 from Little, Brown— proves how unconditional love from those around us can push us closer to self-love. Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to feature the author of Love Times Infinity, Lane Clarke, on this blog today! This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Q/A with Lane Clarke on her debut #ownvoices YA contemporary of Black love, family, ambition, and heart.
Starting with the introductions, would you like to help our readers know more about your debut novel, yourself, and the weather where you are?
Hi, I’m Lane and my debut novel, Love Times Infinity, is an #ownvoices YA contemporary novel about Michie, a Black teen attempting to get into her dream college but lacking the self-confidence and self-love to believe she deserves it. With the help of her grandmother, best friend, and new crush, she learns there is more than one way to be part of a family and in order to let others love you, you must first love yourself, and we are all deserving of love.
As for the weather, it’s pretty funny because LTI takes place at exactly this time, Winter 2022 in Virginia, so like Michie, I’m finding myself bundled up in the cold in the puffiest coat I own!
Love Times Infinity is your debut YA novel that has been praised by renowned authors like Louisa Onome, Kristina Forest, and the National Book Award Finalist, Amber McBride. What do you think is the most spirited aspect of this teen story that has pulled their hearts towards it — the witty humour, the complex intersection of love and identity, the sweetest romance, or a protagonist who everyone would cheer for? (Spoiler: Correct answer includes all four.)
I really do think, or at least hope, that it’s all four! I think at the root of Michie’s story is lack of self-love because of where and what she came from, and that can be a really raw thing to read about, but she still finds a lot of joy and humour in everyday things, in her friendships and hanging out with her grandmother, “tutoring” Derek, so there are times when you want to laugh and cry all on the same page, and that to me is really reflective of life.
I’m a pretty self-deprecating person, so it made a lot of sense to me that Michie could have a series of up and down emotions about the same event, and I think that’s what makes her relatable and easy to cheer on. I really love when readers connect with that part of her.
Speaking of the protagonist, Michie is a sixteen-year-old girl who just wants to get into her dream college but is struggling to draft the essay because it prompts a difficult question: who are you? Working at a cafe called Sip and Serendipity, this sweets-loving bookworm is soft yet ambitious and full of heart.
What defined Michie the most while you were writing her story: her biracial identity, her ambition, her difficult relationships, her blooming romance, or her socioeconomic standing?
I think ultimately Love Times Infinity is about the fact that none of those things define her the most, but are all part of the complex puzzle that makes her who she is, just like any of us. Her racial identity is certainly complicated because all anyone can really do is guess, and that creates a lot of uncertainty for her. How much Blackness can she claim? Is it enough when you grow up in a Black family in a Black neighbourhood and are treated by the world as a Black kid when there’s a big question mark over your identity? Those are certainly questions I’ve struggled with.
She wants to get into Brown, she wants deeper relationships with her best friend, JoJo, and Derek, she wants to get out of her neighbourhood but also is kind of proud of the person it’s built her into. These are all things that require her to be honest with others and honest with herself, and I think that defines her more than anything—this need to be truly understood but scared of what happens when she can no longer hide.
The swoon of Nicola Yoon meets the emotional punch of Elizabeth Acevedo in this breakout debut novel that answers big questions about identity, family, and love.
High school junior Michie is struggling to define who she is for her scholarship essays, her big shot at making it into Brown as a first-generation college student. The prompts would be hard for anyone, but Michie’s been estranged from her mother since she was seven and her concept of family has long felt murky.
Enter new kid and basketball superstar Derek de la Rosa. He is very cute, very talented, and very much has his eye on Michie, no matter how invisible she believes herself to be.
When Michie’s mother unexpectedly reaches out to make amends, and with her scholarship deadlines looming, Michie must choose whether to reopen old wounds or close the door on her past. And as she spends more time with Derek, she’ll have to decide how much of her heart she is willing to share. Because while Michie may not know who she is, she’s starting to realize who she wants to become, if only she can take a chance on Derek, on herself, and on her future.
This contemporary debut is clearly Michie’s story and the other characters, Derek, JoJo, and Grandma prove that by letting Michie shine at every stage. To quote something that perfectly encapsulates this: Grandma, JoJo, and Derek are all excited, but I can only think about embarrassing myself in front of a panel of Ivy Leaguers.
Why was it so important to craft characters who uplift, support, and endlessly love the main character—sometimes more than she loves herself?
You know, I really wanted to create a compassionate world. Honestly, I didn’t really grow up with mean kids. Even the popular kids were nice!
A lot of the self-hate and feelings of inadequacy I felt in high school was all created in my own head, and I wanted to create a similar experience for Michie. To show that there are people out there who want to root for you and are already in your corner if you just take a moment to look beyond what you think are your shortcomings.
Plus, when I thought about the kind of people Michie would gravitate towards in her life, it felt like she would kind of have a magnetic field that pulled in people with big hearts because she herself has a big heart, even if she doesn’t always recognize it in herself.
A huge part of the plot involves Michie’s estranged mother suddenly reappearing in her life. How was this storyline so integral to Michie’s identity as a Black teen born of sexual assault who has grown up with her grandmother and has often felt guilty for taking “everything from her” mother?
It was really important to me to show why Michie is so hard on herself. Even though it’s not her fault, she does blame herself for her mother not living out her dreams, for her grandmother having to raise another kid at her age, for pretty much everything that goes wrong in her family.
Sexual assault is something so tragic, as the resulting child of a sexual assault victim, it can be really hard to separate who you are from what created you. It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. And it was important to include Michie’s mother in this narrative because she also has a story to tell and I didn’t want anyone to see her as an antagonist or a villain. She was young and trying her best and ultimately made the decision she thought, right or wrong, was best for everyone. And I wanted Michie to be able to have that conversation with her.
You’ve said Love Times Infinity at its roots is about learning to love yourself and allowing others to love you, even when it’s hard to open up and especially when you think you’re undeserving of love. What was the more difficult aspect to explore as part of this theme: a persistent friendship, an evolving romance, or an unchallenged and overprotective grandmother—basically, the love showered or the love sought?
Oh, definitely the love showered.
I think it can be really hard to accept love when you don’t feel like you deserve it. Michie is kind of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking that all of these people would abandon her if they knew her whole truth. And it seems kind of ridiculous because it’s so obvious that all of these people are going to ride until the wheels fall off. But that’s the really pernicious thing about anxiety and depression. Your brain will lie to you.
So when her best friend says she loves her, or when her crush is trying to get to know her, or when her grandmother is trying to push her to open up, she’s always battling that voice in her head telling her these people remaining in her life is contingent on her perfection or her hiding her past, and that makes it hard to accept their unconditional love. That all hit very close to home for me, so it was hard to portray those feelings on the page, but it allowed for a lot of healing, for Michie and for myself.
Moving on to the swoon-worthy romance, Derek is the school’s new basketball superstar who is a cinnamon roll, and ever since he walks into the cafe and Michie sees him for the first time, there’s an unmissable spark. How would you best describe this pairing in just five words and which specific trope was your favourite to unfold as the romance bloomed?
Ah, five words! Hmm, unconditional love is not conditionless (that’s not a real word but we’re going to pretend it is because without conditions doesn’t fit in my word limit!). Derek so clearly loves her and thinks the sun shines out of her smile but he’s not a doormat and he does expect Michie to kind of reciprocate and not push him away because that’s hurtful to him.
My favourite trope was definitely the “we’re having a little tiff and one of us almost drops the I love you by accident!” There’s always something about that moment that just creates so much tension and makes my heart race along with the characters. To love someone before the other person is ready to receive it is its own kind of tragedy but that moment between them opens this door that they can’t really turn away from.
Also, what do you think enriched the romantic plot more—the Black love, the honest conversations between Michie and Derek that beautifully portrayed vulnerability as a strength or the subtle sweetness that first love brings with it, especially against the backdrop of a high school?
Well, I think the fact that they’re both Black teens in a high school that lacks a lot of diversity is definitely something that immediately creates a connection between them. They instantly gravitate towards one another. But I think vulnerability, especially Derek’s, is what really makes their relationship special.
It was important to me to portray a Black boy who is soft and vulnerable and emotional and wears his heart on his sleeve because I think the world and media are obsessed with the narrative that Black boys as only aggressive or lack softness, as undeserving of being treated like children and instead robbing them of any innocence.
And he’s deserving of love just like anyone, just like all Black boys are.
Black children, like anyone else, have a full range of emotions and hopes and dreams and I really wanted to make sure Derek fit on that scale in a way that Black boys exist but rarely get to be seen in the media. And he’s deserving of love just like anyone, just like all Black boys are. And it really makes you root for Michie and Derek because it’s two kids who are so kind and soft and deserve the love the other has to offer.
You began writing Love Times Infinity in 2019 and had never imagined it would “turn into anything beyond personal healing” so it’s only understandable how exciting the upcoming publication—scheduled for July 26, 2022—must be. How has this journey been for you, especially as a debut author?
I’m honestly still wrapping my head around it! I wrote this book as a way to work through my own feelings. I barely even remember writing the first draft. It’s like trying to recall the particular day you wrote a journal entry. And I was pretty terrified for a while that people would read something so personal, but I’m excited now!
Every time someone connects with Michie I feel like I’ve given a voice to this thing that no one really talks about. I have felt so supported by my publishing team and have built amazing relationships with writers I’ve looked up to for years and writers on the journey with me, and I’ve gotten to know so many readers and bloggers, it’s really been an experience that I feel extremely grateful for. I never imagined my life would take me into publishing but I couldn’t be more thrilled for the journey.
Time for a fun question! If you were to walk into the cafe where Michie works, Sip & Serendipity, what are you most likely to order and which book would you pick up from that shelf?
I definitely can’t pick black coffee because Michie would take personal offense! I would definitely go with one of Michie’s chocolate based concoctions…maybe her St. Paddy Melt, which is mint hot chocolate with four leaf clover sprinkles on top of the whipped cream, with a shot of espresso. I would absolutely leave with an armful of books, but if they had a copy of Pride & Prejudice I’d snap that up in a second, if Michie hadn’t already taken it. One can never have too many copies.
This was a great chat! But before letting you go, would you like to share what you’ve been working on nowadays; any stories we should be excited for after Love Times Infinity is surely going to win our hearts?
This was so much fun, thank you! Right now, I’m working on my second book, which may feature a very familiar fan favourite *hint hint* and it’s been a lot of fun to dig into a character and peel back some of the layers that haven’t been explored in Love Times Infinity!
She grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where she hung out with her grandma at IHOP every Tuesday night and attended $3 movie nights at the Byrd Theater. Lane has been in love with books since the age of two. Her stories feature Black culture and big-hearted teenagers with self-doubts and big dreams, who—with a little laughter and good friends—can accomplish anything. She eats dessert before dinner and can usually be found rewatching her favorite teen soap operas. She currently lives in Northern Virginia with her cat, Pickles, and works as an attorney in Washington, D.C. You can find her at www.laneclarkewrites.com or @lanewriteswords on Twitter or @lanewriteswords on Instagram!
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This post has been monetarily compensated but the writer’s responses are solely their own opinions, comments, and thoughts; links were added by the blogger but no changes were made to the text.