Romance novelist Kennedy Ryan inspires her readers to put self-love first

With her upcoming novel, “This Could Be Us,” novelist Kennedy Ryan reaches beyond the limits of romantic love.

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Images: Hachette Books; Perrywinkle Photography

Love is an intricate and nuanced emotion, most often associated with romantic partnerships and glorified in art and media; but in reality, there are many types of love, all of which are vital to our existence. While romance novels are known for their focus on amorous, whirlwind encounters, these stories can also showcase platonic, familial and even self-love, often encompassing the full scope and true definition of the emotion in one book. In the midst of the stereotypical steamy, swoon-worthy romance genre, bestselling novelist Kennedy Ryan aims to tell authentic love stories prioritizing both non-romantic and self-love. 

“I want marginalized people to come into the pages and to see themselves,” Ryan told theGrio during a recent interview. “I want anybody to be able to step into pages and see love, joy, healing – [and all of] those things that are so universal [that] anybody can relate to them.”

Ryan wrote her upcoming book, “This Could Be Us,” with newly single women and stay-at-home mothers in mind. Hitting bookshelves on March 5, the novel focuses on Soledad Barnes, who, after years in a loveless marriage to a distant husband, suddenly has the rug ripped from beneath her. As Soledad goes through a messy divorce, she has to find a way to salvage the life that she has built while keeping herself together. 

At its core, “This Could Be Us” is a romance novel, so Soledad eventually finds her happy ending. However, the story is about more than a budding romance; it’s about a woman’s journey to reclaim her own power, fall in love with herself, and rebuild her family with the help of those closest to her. It’s a story that showcases every type of love while uplifting the most important one – the love of self.

“I want [readers] to take away that whether it’s romantic love, sister-love, [or] love between friends, you are going to be the best version of yourself and best equipped to love the people in your life when you love and understand yourself, when you respect yourself, [and] when you acknowledge your own desires and wishes and needs,” she said.

Ryan purposefully highlighted Soledad’s self-partnering journey. She wanted to show women, especially Black and brown women, that they can find joy, healing and strength outside of a man. It reflects her larger mission to tell stories that resonate with all audiences while centering the experiences of women of color. 

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Although romance is the largest genre of fiction, as of 2021, only 7.8% of romance novels published were written by BIPOC authors. Ryan strives to create characters that allow women of color to feel seen, and that they can see themselves or their family members in. With a desire for her work to depict real stories, Ryan hopes the future of romance follows a similar path.

“I want [Black authors] to infiltrate every corner of romance … so that as many people as possible can understand the glory of Black love and of our stories,” she said. “I want to see Black women being loved on extravagantly as much as possible. Then, the second part of that is, I want to see Black women who are writing those stories compensated equitably.”

If you are looking to read more romance books that explore love in its entirety, check out Black authors like Christina C. Jones; Myah Ariel; Nikki Payne; Beverly Jenkins; Tia Williams; Bolu Babalola; Riss M. Neilson; Terry McMillan; Akwaeke Emezi and A.E. Valdez.

Kayla Grant is a multimedia journalist with bylines in Business Insider, Shondaland, Oz Magazine, Prism, Rolling Out and more. She writes about culture, books and entertainment news. Follow her on Twitter: @TheKaylaGrant