By Marie Marquardt
Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s Press – released February 20th
Marie Marquardt is an author, immigration rights advocate, and college professor who has written two novels, The Radius of Us and Dream Thing True, that have dealt with the emotional and physical struggles undocumented youth face in the United States.
Marquardt is a Scholar-in-Residence at Emery University’s Candler School of Theology and has been an advocate for social justice for Latin American immigrants in the South for two decades.
She is the chair of El Refugio, a Georgia non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families.
Marquardt’s third novel, Flight Season, which is out on February 20th, is her most personal to date.
It’s a story about three teenagers from different worlds who find their lives inextricably linked one summer in a Florida hospital’s ICU, and they each find profound and life-changing lessons from each other.
Vivi Flanagan was almost broken with grief after he beloved father’s death. After she avoids falling out of college, she is determined to fulfill her dad’s dreams for her and negotiates a hospital internship to save her grades and return to the Ivy League school she worked so hard to get into.
TJ Carvalho is a nursing student whose huge, overbearing family runs a popular Brazilian restaurant in St. Augustine’s tourist district. He wants nothing to do with Vivi, but he is willing to do whatever it takes to earn his way out of the family business.
When Vivi and TJ are assigned to be glorified babysitters for Angel Solis, the problem patient in the heart ward, things start to get complicated and personalities clash.
Angel is an undocumented orphan from Guatemala with a life-threatening heart disease, but that doesn’t make him any less of a nuisance.
Along the way, Angel teaches Vivi and TJ a thing or two about all of their big plans and the incredible moments that occur when love gets in the way of them. The dying boy shows the two of them what’s really important and gives them the courage to set aside their ambitions so they can live, and possibly even love.
Marquardt says of her novel, “Flight Season is a tribute to the strength and fortitude of the many teenagers I have come to know and love, who face all sorts of adversity with a maturity and inner strength that adults often fail to recognize. It’s also an act of resistance to the social norms that tell us certain things (like an Ivy League degree) matter most, when – really – they aren’t nearly as important as those intangibles of love and friendship and human flourishing. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s an affirmation that when we love each other in all of our faults, and through all of our pain; when we stay present to suffering, even though it scares the hall out of us, beautiful things happen.”
The story is interspersed with line drawings of birds by Marquardt’s life-long friend, artist Emily Arthur (www.emilyarthur.org).
In this time when immigration concerns are at the top of the news, Flight Season will have particular resonance with people of all ages.
Marquardt, through her fiction, aims to tell authentic and provocative stories that are also hopeful and uplifting. She believes that giving readers the opportunity to connect emotionally to the experiences of immigrants can be a powerful antidote to the hate, fear, and misunderstanding plaguing society today.
“When I speak to groups about immigration and the need for immigration reform, I can offer clear, rational explanations and data on why our immigration system needs to be repaired,” Marquardt says. “But they only begin to care when they meet and get to know someone who is stuck in between. Writing a fictional (but very real) story brings readers into intimate, personal engagement with a messy, complicated, political situation.”
In order to increase that awareness, she is the founder of the 2018 online reading initiative #ReadforChange, which aims to bring attention to literature for young people that focuses on social concerns and issues, in partnership with School Library Journal’s blog, Teen Librarian Toolbox.
You can find out more about #ReadforChange at www.mariemarquardt.com/readforchange, on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt, Facebook @MarieMarquardtauthor, and on Instagram @marie_marquardt.
Marie Marquardt on Why She Wrote Flight Season:
Three weeks before my high school graduation, my parents sat me on a bench in our backyard to tell me that my dad had cancer. They quickly followed this devastating news with a cheerful assertion that, even though the cancer had reached advanced stages before detection, our family would approach this problem as we approached every problem: with a positive attitude and willful resolve. We would not let cancer beat us; cancer would not get in the way of our plans.
Remember that sappy Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dying”? Well, we spent the summer doing the opposite. Dying inside, we all tried to live as if nothing had changed.
When that difficult summer ended, my father headed into another grueling regime of chemotherapy, and I headed off to the Ivy League, armed with a stack of books bearing such power-of-positive-thinking titles as You Can Fight for your Life: Emotional Factors in the Treatment of Cancer.
There was no question that I would go away to school. My father was the first in his family to attend college and the proud son of a man whose career began on a manufacturing assembly line. Dad saw great promise in me, and a “Yes!” from my (his?) dream school was the fulfillment of that promise.
So, off I went to the academic elite. I studied hard and made new friends, slowly adjusting to my life there. I didn’t talk about my father’s illness, or tell my new friends about his “battle” with cancer. But I did find time to read the cancer books. I carefully followed the rules laid out therein, refusing to allow doubt or worry to creep in. My entire family followed those rules – we did everything we were supposed to do, forced ourselves to think the right thoughts.
And still, cancer “beat” us.
Three weeks before my freshman year ended, I came home to Florida for my sister’s wedding. It was a beautiful and profound celebration. I spent most of the evening with my father, pushing him through the reception, since he had weakened to the point of needing a wheelchair.
In the early morning hours that followed the wedding, Dad fell into a coma. My sisters and I took turns sitting beside him, while all of my classmates sat for their final exams. And, as my classmates packed up their dorms and took off for great summer adventures, I held my mother’s hand and scattered my father’s ashes beneath a great oak tree.
It probably goes without saying that I have never found books or movies or TV shows about cancer to be particularly entertaining. When I started writing young adult fiction several years ago (at the apex of success for The Fault in Our Stars) I vowed that I would never, ever write a cancer book.
I kept this promise. Flight Season is not a cancer book. Yet, in more ways than I even consciously knew as I wrote, this book is drawn from my own life-altering experiences with cancer as a teen.
Flight Season is the story of three teenagers from three different worlds who face a long and painful summer together in a hospital’s ICU. Vivi Flanagan is an intern who is so paralyzed by her beloved father’s death that she’s about to fall out of an Ivy League college. TJ Carvalho is a nursing student determined to rise above his working class roots and his huge, overbearing family. As they get to know Angel Solis, an orphan from Guatemala with a life-threatening heart disease, they learn from the dying boy what’s really important, and he gives them the courage to set aside their ambitions, to live, and even to love.
Their story is a tribute to the strength and fortitude of my own teen self, and of the many teenagers I have come to know and love, who face all sorts of adversity with a maturity and inner strength that adults often fail to recognize. It’s also an act of resistance to the social norms that tell us certain things (like an Ivy League degree) matter most, when – really – they aren’t nearly as important as those intangibles of love and friendship and human flourishing. And, perhaps most importantly, Flight Season is an affirmation that sometimes what is required of us is not a face-off in battle against adversity and suffering. Soimetimes, the right thing to do is to walk with suffering and refuse to turn away from it. When we love each other in all of our faults, and through all of our pain; when we stay present to suffering, even though it scares the hell out of us, beautiful things happen.
It took me decades to learn this lesson. Most of what I know, I learned in a tiny yellow hospitality house a mile down the road from the nation’s largest immigration detention center. For many years, I have helped to run a small non-profit called El Refugio, which supports detained immigrants and their families. Often, there is very little we can do to make their situation better. We simply accompany people through their suffering, stand beside them in love, refuse to ignore it or turn our backs to it. This journey of accompaniment has changed my life, again and again.
Every one of my young adult novels, including Flight Season, passes through that terrible detention center. And each story finds a way to celebrate those surprising relationships that help us endure the journey.