Marie Marquardt talks to us about the complicated nature of grief, the importance of staying present in suffering, and how fiction can be a powerful window into issues of injustice in her upcoming young adult novel Flight Season.
I loved Flight Season, which comes out this Tuesday, February 20, and was thrilled to be able to chat with Marie Marquardt about the nuanced depictions of immigrants and their stories, as well as the love and sympathy I had for all three point of view characters found within its pages.
About ‘Flight Season’ by Marie Marquardt
Back when they were still strangers, TJ Carvalho witnessed the only moment in Vivi Flannigan’s life when she lost control entirely. Now, TJ can’t seem to erase that moment from his mind, no matter how hard he tries. Vivi doesn’t remember any of it, but she’s determined to leave it far behind. And she will.
But when Vivi returns home from her first year away at college, her big plans and TJ’s ambition to become a nurse land them both on the heart ward of a university hospital, facing them with a long and painful summer together – three months of glorified babysitting for Ángel, the problem patient on the hall. Sure, Ángel may be suffering from a life-threatening heart infection, but that doesn’t make him any less of a pain.
As it turns out, though, Ángel Solís has a thing or two to teach them about all those big plans, and the incredible moments when love gets in their way.
Written in alternating first person from the perspectives of all three characters, Flight Season is a story about discovering what’s really worth holding onto, learning how to let go of the rest, and that one crazy summer that changes your life forever.
Our interview with Marie Marquardt, author of ‘Flight Season’
What inspired you to write this story?
This story came from two things. The first is my experience working for many years with immigrant families, especially with detained immigrants. I’ve built a lot of friendships and I feel like it’s important to find a way to share their stories, to contribute to their work, and to build their dignity. In fact, the character of Ángel is based on a young man I spent time with a decade ago and the friendship we built over the course of a year before he was deported to Mexico.
The second thing that inspired me to write this story is very special to me. The situation of Vivi is tied a lot to my own story. I also lost my father as a freshman in college and while Vivi definitely isn’t me — I am not writing her as myself — I really had to really dive deep into my own experiences of dealing with grief and having to become an adult really fast as I wrote her story. I think that teens do this really well and we don’t give them enough credit for doing so, and I wanted to tell that story.
That storyline of dealing with grief and working through it was so emotional and well-written. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you approached that?
We have a hard time talking about suffering in our society. Mostly, we want to make it go away. But sometimes we need to stay with it and be present and even though it doesn’t make it disappear, it can make it healing.
So when I was writing this story, I wanted to give these characters the permission to live their grief in very different ways. I wanted to show that each person is going to deal with grief in a different way and that we need to keep loving them through the grief, to face it straight on with them.
I think that when you can find people who aren’t afraid of your suffering and grief, who don’t want to just move past it, who aren’t scared of it and who are ok just being with you in that grief and suffering — that can be such a powerful thing. And that’s easily what many of the relationships in the book are about — finding that type of love that you need when you’re suffering. The type that says, “I’m ok just being here with you.”
I think the issues in this book were always important, but now they’re particularly timely given the current administration. Did you take that political reality into account as you were writing it?
I’m pretty close to the ground in immigration policy, and one of the many things that came out during the early days of the current administration is that prior enforcement priorities having to do with undocumented immigrants were being erased. So that meant that that anyone who was undocumented was up for enforcement. Now, up until recently, the probability that someone would be deported from a hospital was very low. But now we’ve seen a few cases of that happening — it’s a scenario that’s happening and it’s deeply disturbing.
So, one of the reasons I write fiction is because I think it’s a really powerful window into issues of injustice and I think we need every tool in our arsenal to challenge injustice. I believe fiction is a really powerful tool as a way to challenge injustice and build empathy.
What do you hope your readers take away from each of the characters?
I want readers to take away most from the relationships that the characters build because one of the things that each of the characters do is allows him/herself is to open up in a relationship and by doing so, that changes the character.
With Vivi, I want readers to see how complicated grief is and how beautiful it is when we surround ourselves with people who can share in our grief and walk in grief with us. That sharing that grief can create change in ourselves and in the world.
With TJ, first I just wanted to write someone who was a good man and I want to celebrate good men right now. He’s a celebration of the kind of man I want all of us to be surrounded by. In his own personal journey, I wanted to honor and celebrate someone who could both love and adore the community and his family that he was formed within, and also take wings and do his own thing.
For Ángel, I don’t want anyone to read the book and see him as a victim. He was in the center of so many circumstances that were beyond his control and I think that, sometimes, when we see people in that place, we assign them the victim narrative. But with Ángel — I think he had amazing agency through this story and part of that was in unflinchingly facing his own future. He was afraid but he was unflinching and through that, he gave them the everyone around him the chance to be present to his suffering and to face it head on with him. Suffering is part of life and most of the time, we want to turn away from it. He demonstrates a different way to tackle suffering.
What do you hope your readers take away from the story?
To me, this is not just a story about the characters — it’s a story about the time we’re living in. It’s a hard story to tell but it’s also an honest one, and I need to be honest about the time we’re living in. So first, I want readers to have an eyes wide open awareness of what’s happening with teenage immigrants, specifically with teenage asylum seekers, which is what Ángel would be. This story is to help open our eyes to teenage asylum seekers.
Secondly, I want readers to look at these themes of suffering and grief and understand how powerful it is to stay present in suffering and grief, and to walk with people in suffering. I want them to see how transformative that can be both for ourselves as people and also for our world.