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Memphis-born Kelis Rowe debuts in young-adult genre with ‘Finding Jupiter’

New literary author Kelis Rowe fondly recalls the days as a young girl walking to Crystal Palace, the once-popular Whitehaven-area skating rink that closed in 2017.

 That same roller rink would serve as the backdrop of her debut novel, “Finding Jupiter,” a young adult fiction that captures the love story of two Memphis teens. 

“That skating rink played a major role in my life,” Rowe, a Memphis native, said of Crystal Palace. “I knew I wanted to include it.”

“Finding Jupiter,” published by Random House Books, offers the perfect blend of love and loss told through the lens of Jupiter Moon “Ray” and Orion, the two main characters, whose lives intertwine unexpectantly after meeting at the skating rink as Ray celebrates her 17th birthday.

This contemporary literary fiction allows readers to witness the two teens’ courtship develop through Ray’s poetry, compiled on loose pages of her copy of the classic novel, “The Great Gatsby.” 

Rowe knew she wanted to include the American literary piece in her book, as she credits it for sparking the premise for “Finding Jupiter.”

“The very first poem that shows up in “The Great Gatsby” is what found me,” Rowe said. “And that poem told me what that story would be.”

“Finding Jupiter” blends found poetry and eloquent literary wordplay to tell a beautifully complex story about young Black love, fueled with self-discovery, trust and forgiveness. 

For Rowe, the novel is nostalgic, drawing small glimpses from her young adult years growing up in Whitehaven.

“I grew up right down the street from Crystal Palace,” she recalled. “I have so many memories of the skating rink, memories like the first time I held a boy’s hand.”

Rowe, who now lives in Austin, Texas, said the narrative provides other similarities to her life. Just like the character Ray, who writes poems, Rowe too found comfort in poetry. She called it her “survival toolkit” as a “closed off” teenager. 

Then there is the complex father-child relationship she admits to having with her father, which inspired the book’s examination of fatherhood and its effects on romantic relationships.

“Ray’s father died just before she was born, so she never met him. And Orion has a complicated relationship with his father,” Rowe explained. “I wanted to examine what it looks like to work through those issues as teenagers while falling in love.” 

Rowe’s teenage years growing up in Memphis were riddled with typical adolescent problems, but overall, the memories are fond. 

She refers to these recollections as moments of “big joy,” and it is what she hopes to give to Black teenagers who read the book. 

“I just wanted to give them a sweet love story that focuses on their humanity and all of the universal things teenagers go through,” Rowe said. “I have a big heart for teenagers — especially Black teenagers.”

The author, who loves 80s teen romance flicks, said she found that stories of young Black love typically are not told. 

“There are negative narratives of young Black boys and young Black girls, and I wanted to change that and give them something that I didn’t get to see as a child growing up, reading the books I read,” she said. “Black teenage love is happening, and I wanted to provide a representation of that.”

Rowe always knew her hometown would be at the forefront when she wrote her first book.

“I’m always going to write about kids from Memphis. I am here for my city and want to show Black summer love in Memphis,” Rowe said. 

Memphians will feel right at home reading “Finding Jupiter” with mentions of several notable landmarks, including Beale Street, Riverside Drive and Central Gardens. 

And while Rowe intentionally paid homage to the city where she was born and raised, she hopes young readers can gain more than just a familiar context.

“I want teens to know that they are just so cute,” she said with a slight chuckle before adjusting her tone for a more profound statement. 

“What I really want them to see is that their love is revolutionary; their joy is revolutionary, and we see you.”

Rowe will return to Memphis with a Homecoming Release Party on Saturday (June 4) at Novel, followed by a skate party at East End Skating Center on Sunday (June 5).

On June 7, Rowe will also join fellow author Kristen R. Lee at DeMoir Books and Things, 739 N. White Station Rd. in the Cloverleaf Shopping Center.

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