A dreamy cloud of a book, Myah Ariel’s debut novel, When I Think Of You, is a reminder that Black girls with massive dreams deserve a soft place to land. Relegated to the reception desk at one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, 26-year-old Kaliya Wilson has paid her dues and then some. Unfortunately, without any solid connections in the industry and a lack of support from her boss, who only views her as a help, Kaliya has tucked away her film producer aspirations. These days, she spends her time nibbling on emotional support muffins, fixing the copy machine and keeping a neutral expression amid constant microaggressions. The monotonous life Kaliya has settled for suddenly shifts on its axis one seemingly uneventful day when Danny Prescott, a young hotshot director and Kaliya’s first love, saunters into her office, offering her an opportunity to work on his latest film. 

At its core, When I Think Of You is a second-chance love story, but Ariel’s stunning debut is so much more than that. Gorgeously written, the reader is transported to the past. Years ago in New York City, 18-year-old Kaliya, a recent transplant from Arkansana, fell head over heels for her NYU classmate, Danny. Ariel infuses her first-hand knowledge and infatuation with movies in the narrative, including script sides and iconic movie mentions. Penned in cinematic color, the reader gets a close-up of the young couple’s intense connection culminating on a crisp winter day in Union Square’s Christmas market surrounded by peanut brittle, hot chocolate and kisses. Though the novel captures the euphoria of falling in love, it also hones in the pain of heartbreak and how world-shattering disappointment can be. 

In the present, Kaliya agonizes over seeing Danny again and whether she can trust him with the next phase of her career, knowing how badly he’s battered her heart. Still determined to use this opportunity to her advantage, Kaliya takes Danny up on his offer — though things don’t quite pan out as expected. As the pair press forward on Danny’s deeply personal dream project, Kaliya gets a front-row seat to the perils of the entertainment industry for people of color while coming to terms with her feelings for Danny, who also happens to be in a relationship. As much as When I Think Of You is about new beginnings, it’s also a book about grief and how the anguish of loss can reframe your worldview forever. Throughout it all, Ariel swirls her story in a ribbon of intense aching for what was and what could have been.  

While the will/they won’t/they is central to Ariel’s narrative, the anticipation, tender moments and depictions of lust and sexual tension aren’t the novel’s anchor. Instead, we get to the heart of who Kaliya is as a woman, a girls’ girl who has made a home with her best friend Neha, a lover of Stevie Wonder and Prince who never stopped striving for her dreams and finding herself, even when things felt impossible. Ariel illustrates a Black woman who desires more and is determined to get it without compromise, even if that means pausing her romantic life. As Kaliya puts it, “Back then, I was chasing myself __ so obsessed with who I wanted to be, that I missed the chance to get to know who I was in the moment.”  

Ariel declares that women, especially Black women, should never settle and instead should demand from others just as much as they expect from themselves. When I Think Of You reminds us that though passions often require risks and when they blossom, it can indeed, be magic.