This June, Kristina Forest’s debut YA novel I Wanna Be Where You Are came out. With a beautiful cover and an even more stunning love story, it’s not hard to see why readers are gravitating towards this book. Chloe is a seventeen year old ballerina, who’s never broken her mother’s rules…until now. She has the opportunity to audition for her dream dance conservatory. So when her mom goes on vacation, Chloe makes a plan to drive down to Washington DC for the auditions. But her annoying cute neighbor, Eli finds out and insists on coming along or he’ll tell their parents. And he brings his stinky dog Geezer. And has the nerve to argue with her about what music to play on the radio! Along the drive, they end up visiting new cities and old friends. Since it’s a romance – the bantery hatred between them melts into like and mutual attraction, maybe more. Also, both teens learn from each other to believe in themselves and their dreams for the future.
Kristina is an outspoken romance fan on the Internet and speaks often about the need for diverse characters in romantic fiction, especially for teenagers. It was equal parts fun and eye-opening to get to ask her questions about romance, reader responses to the book, and her journey as an #ownvoices author.
Reading romance is often an act of wish fulfillment for our personal lives. Was writing I Wanna Be Where You Are an act of wish fulfillment for the kind of book you wish you had as a teenager?
Kristina: Definitely. I’ve always loved reading YA romance, but as a teen, I didn’t see many of those stories where both the main character and the love interest were Black, and that didn’t change once I became an adult either. When I decided that I was going to write a book with the goal of publication, I knew the two main characters were going to be Black. I was actively drafting the book I wished that I’d read in high school.
Some readers have pointed out the number of romantic tropes you use in I Wanna Be Where You Are. Were these intentional? Are there other romantic tropes you are interested in covering in the future?
I didn’t intentionally use any tropes, which is so funny in retrospect, because the book is full of them: hate to love romance, forced proximity, childhood crushes, etc. I was just writing what I love to see in other books and movies.
I think all of my books will have romantic tropes. I really want to write a friends to lovers story. If I ever write adult romance, I’d love to write a book with a secret baby trope or marriage of convenience.
Since I Wanna Be Where You Are came out in June, have any reader responses have stood out to you?
Some readers have dressed up like the main character, Chloe, and that has been the best response by far. I’m glad when any reader can see themselves in Chloe, but I particularly love when Chloe makes young Black readers feel represented.
Also, just this morning someone tagged me on twitter saying that their daughter read I Wanna Be Where You Are right before a major dance audition, and reading Chloe’s story was everything she needed at that moment. So I’m really happy to see that readers can relate to all aspects of Chloe’s life.
What are a few of your all-time favorite literary happy endings?
I have so many favorites, but these three come to mind immediately:
- This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (Dexter is the sweetest and funniest love interest, one of my all-time favorites)
- P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (that moment between Lara Jean and Peter K in the treehouse is so adorable)
- The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski (Arin and Kestrel are the ultimate OTP. The ending to this series is so satisfying)
What kind of books do you hope to write in the future? Will you be sticking to romance?
I only really have plans to write romance, whether it be YA or adult. I don’t think readers will ever tire of reading romance and seeing characters get their happy endings, and writing those kinds of stories brings me the most joy.
About the Author:
Kristina Forest loves to dance and thought one day she’d be a choreographer. But then she decided she loved writing more. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children at The New School and works in children’s books publishing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with two huge bookshelves. I Wanna Be Where You Are is her first novel.
Connect with Kristina:
When Chloe Pierce’s mom forbids her to apply for a spot at the dance conservatory of her dreams, she devises a secret plan to drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. But Chloe hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind. So now Chloe’s chasing her ballet dreams down the east coast―two unwanted (but kinda cute) passengers in her car, butterflies in her stomach, and a really dope playlist on repeat.
Filled with roadside hijinks, heart-stirring romance, and a few broken rules, Kristina Forest’s I Wanna Be Where You Are is a YA debut perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon.