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INTERVIEW: Auriane Desombre’s I Think I Love You Is the Charming Queer YA Romcom Shakespeare Retelling We’ve All Been Waiting For

Auriane Desombre and her debut YA novel, I Think I Love You

We all remember our first romance. Whether it was puppy love or an unrequited crush, the loves we experience in our teenage years can hold some of the most deeply formative experiences—and heartwarming memories.

It makes perfect sense then that during the late ’90s/early aughts, teen stories and teen films were used as the perfect vehicle for exploring these intense love stories. From Romeo + Juliet and She’s The Man to Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You, classic literature found itself able to create compelling, fun and heartwarming retellings through the lens of adolescence, high school, and the growing pains of coming of age. I mean, let’s be honest, sometimes being a teenager in love feels just as a dramatic as a Shakespearean play!

Auriane Desombre’s debut YA novel bills itself as a cross between “Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Jane Austen’s Emma,”  but what sets this title apart is its refreshing and introspective exploration of queer coming-of-age, and queer love stories.

Following the rivalry of teen film buffs Sophia and Emma, I Think I Love You delivers a endearing tale of what happens when these two girls start off as rivals, but end up falling for each other along the way.

The Mary Sue had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Auriane about her inspiration for I Think I Love You, the importance of writer friends, and why classic literature and YA novels aren’t as different as people may think.  Check out our interview below!

The Mary Sue: How long have you been reading and writing YA? What changes have you seen in YA over the years?

Desombre: I’ve been reading YA since I was a teen, and I think I started writing my first YA stories around the same time! I was (and still am) a huge Meg Cabot fan when I was in high school, and I often haunted the YA shelves of my local library after school.

In terms of recent changes, I think we’ve seen an increase in diversity in YA books, which is so wonderful. It’s so important, especially for this age group, to provide “windows and doors” through the books children and teens are reading so that they can see themselves represented in stories.

TMS: Absolutely, the stories that have been coming out the past few years have been so beautifully diverse! What have been some of your personal favorite YA books/authors?

Desombre: There are so many wonderful books that have come out in recent years! I love Sonia Hartl, Annette Christie, and Rachel Lynn Solomon for their strong and funny female protagonists, and Andrea Contos writes some of my favorite thrillers. I’m also obsessed with the f/f rom coms by Kelly Quindlen, Leah Johnson, Adiba Jaigirdar, and Ciara Smyth.

TMS: I Think I Love You is very reminiscent of the late 90’s/early 2000’s renaissance of teen films serving as Shakespearan/classic literature retellings (10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, Get Over It, She’s The Man, etc.). What first inspired you to write this particular story?

Desombre: I love all those movies! I was first inspired by the hilarious banter in Much Ado About Nothing. The enemies-to-lovers trope has always been my favorite, and the fact that Beatrice and Benedick’s rivalry is largely based on who can be the funniest in an argument is just incredible. Trying to bring all that humor and drama into a contemporary teen context was so much fun. I also think it’s so important to claim space for LGBTQ+ characters in retellings of classic literature, where there often is so little diversity.

TMS: Why do you think it’s important to have queer coming-of-age stories? Especially those rooted in joy and “first love”?

Desombre: Queer coming-of-age stories can provide such important representation to teen readers. Navigating queerness at that age often adds so many layers to the coming-of-age experience, and I think finding stories about characters going through similar journeys can help readers find their own path.

Rooting those stories a happily-ever-after of first love can help show readers that, though the queer coming-of-age journey can have challenges, there is so much joy that comes with growing into your authentic self.

TMS: People often look at YA as being somehow “less than” classic literature, but I would completely disagree! What are your thoughts on the connection between classic literature and contemporary YA as art, instead of pitting them against each other?

Desombre: I couldn’t agree with you more! Not only should YA and the classics not be pitted against each other, but they absolutely belong in conversation with each other. The “young adult” label is relatively new, but so many of what we consider “classic” books are stories about young people.

For example, I think Jane Austen’s books about young women coming of age, falling in love, and navigating their relationships with their families, friends, and society would feel right at home on young adult shelves if the label existed when she wrote them. Instead of writing off YA as “less than,” I think there’s so much we can learn by reading these genres alongside each other.

TMS: As a teacher, how do you bring YA and queer representation into the classroom?

Desombre: I teach late elementary school students, so I bring more middle grade into my classroom than YA! I love connecting students with books that suit their interests, especially for students looking to see themselves represented in diverse literature. Talking about books with my students is definitely one of my favorite parts of my job!

TMS: Are there any other classic literature that you would love to write and explore through a YA lens?

Desombre: My current work in progress is inspired by Bye Bye Birdie, which counts as classic literature in my heart, if not to the rest of the canon. I’m always fascinated by the ways that the classics and contemporary stories intersect, so I’m sure there are more re-tellings in my writing future.

TMS: What helps you stay inspired as you work on your craft?

Desombre: I’m so inspired by my writer friends! Reading their incredible work and watching them grow their careers always inspires me to push myself and take risks when I start new projects. It’s also always fun to have friends to talk about writing and craft!

TMS: If you could set I Think I Love You to a song or a playlist, what would it be?

Desombre: I obviously have to include “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family. I also think “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall would have to make an appearance—there’s a love for classic rom coms in the book, and that song is in so many of my early-2000s rom com favorites!

TMS: What advice would you give for young writers just beginning their journey?

Desombre: I’d definitely recommend looking into mentorship programs! I learned so much about writing and publishing as a Pitch Wars mentee, and made friendships with other writers I can’t imagine my life without. Having a community of other writers is indispensable when it comes to growing your craft and navigating the publishing industry.

I also recommend finding the parts of writing that give you the most joy and leaning into them! I love drafting a new project, and holding onto the enjoyment that writing gives me helps me persevere when other parts of the writing process feel challenging or overwhelming.

(featured image: Underline/Random House Children’s)

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Larissa Irankunda (she/her) is an East African star child and writer based in Brooklyn. Fantasy and Science-Fiction are her first loves, and her writing focuses on amplifying diversity and inclusion in storytelling. You are most likely to find her nose-deep in a good book, or professing her love for Danny Devito and Jeff Goldblum on the interwebs.