Devyn Bakewell’s novel “Greater Love,” introduces Ryan McKnight, a strong, spirited young woman looking to leave her heart-sinking memories in Los Angeles and chase her dreams in the Big Apple. Juggling two jobs while going to college, McKnight has the New York-state –of-mind, but her thoughts are abruptly interrupted.
McKnight savored being thousands of miles away from Los Angeles and all who lived there, but suddenly, she encounters a familiar L.A. vibe, bringing in a layer of love and warmth to her journey. Ultimately, she learns it’s about letting the love in.
Bakewell based her lead female character from her own “Howard experience.” She said that period of self-discovery is the “root” of McKnight’s story. Pulling the setting from a personal narrative, Bakewell grew up from L.A. and left home to attend a historically Black college, Howard University. She is looking to graduate in May with a degree in English with an African American studies background.
By extracting personal details, Bakewell was able to create a new angle for her characters. “It gave me more identification for myself but also allowed me to use my own experiences to create really deep and raw stories about the Black community,” she said.
The author captured the thoughts and fears people must address and overcome in a new environment while trying to shape their destiny at a four-year university. However, as the story progresses, the characters begin to take on a life of their own.
In the first chapter, the story McKnight’s character blends in with a sea of college freshman on “move-in day.” Through her, we hear her assessment of the environment, as she scans the area. She quickly notices the differences between herself and her peers, eventually becoming homesick and feeling the absence of her parents.
McKnight’s family dynamic has yielded pain in her life. She has tried to heal by barricading her feelings into her dreams, but such practices left no room for trust or the strength to have deep relationships with people until Baker seeped behind her concrete walls.
Throughout the development of the story, the spotlight switches between Baker and McKnight; there is a level of vulnerability found on both sides of the story. Bakewell explained her process for character development, she said, “I try to get into my characters, feel what they feel, knowing just a little bit about their background, and a little bit of where I want to take it—and I just dive right in.”
The key components of the book, as it relates to the general college experience, includes the diversity within the student population, unsheltered decisions, and being fully accepted as a Black student among one’s peers at an HBCU.
The book describes many gestures that are found within the collective culture; one can feel the energy after Baker “slaps hands” to greet his friends at the victory house party or feel the cold shoulder and rolled eyes from the cheerleaders envious of McKnight. Every small detail pulls the story along for a scenic ride through college life.
Bakewell’s vision is “that all Black people, young and old, find a way to share their stories and ideas with the world.” Bakewell wanted to add to the positive narrative, embracing the rich culture of the Black college community.
The author went through the first wave of publishing with New Degree Press, and this is her first book on this magnitude of a public audience. Bakewell shared her thoughts on her journey, reflecting on the lessons she learned from her first novel that will applied to the next. Bakewell said, “In my next novel, I am still working on Ryan’s and Devyn’s story. I’m definitely taking them into my next novel. “
Based on her first round of publishing, Bakewell expressed a layer of fear that is no longer there, “This was my first book that I shared with people, especially my family and my friends,” Bakewell said. She continued explaining how her fear of people not agreeing with her work dissipated.
The author said that her family has been very supportive, but it came as a bit of a shock. Bakewell explained that she is the “quiet one” in her family and some underlining details in the book that explore self-discovery and sexual assault may have been a bit surprising coming from her, but her family embraced the book in addition to connecting to the characters on personal levels.
Bakewell sees herself gravitating to screenwriting in the future. She said, “Getting into the post-grad life, I still want to be an author, I still want to create tons more books, but I am leaning towards into screenwriting now—because at the end of the day, all authors want their stuff to be a book or a movie, and I want to be the one to write that.”
The message from the author coming through this book, is to “let love in and watch how it changes you,” Bakewell said. “That’s a big part that I want my readers to understand; I think life is hard and there are a lot of times where people—they feel unloved and feel like they have no one, but those are the moments where if you really look around you—you see who showed out for you, who loves you, and the things that make you feel love.”
She continued, “At the end of the day, no matter what you’ve been through, who’s hurt you in life— love is constant, unconditional, and always just around the corner.”
“Greater Love,” is available on itunes, Eso Won Bookstore, Amazon, and the Barnes and Noble website.