“You fell in love with the copilot of the plane you were on when you saved Mickey Mouse’s life?” a local news reporter asks ER nurse Olive Murphy about a third of the way into Andie Burke’s debut novel, Fly With Me. It’s a hilarious question, and it actually does kind of sum up the plot of my favorite sapphic romance of the year. Flight-phobic Olive absolutely falls in love with Allied Airlines pilot Stella Soriano after she jumps up to rescue a passenger having a major medical emergency on one of Stella’s co-piloted flights to Disney World. And when the flight has to land in Atlanta to get the passenger to a hospital, Stella Soriano falls in love with Olive too, after she offers to drive her all the way to Orlando, over night, so Olive can make it to the half-marathon she’s on her way to run. It’s a perfect meet-cute, full of Brandi Carlile singalongs and gas station candy, and it only gets more adorable from there.
Olive is a badass medical professional with an anxiety disorder. Stella is a hyper-competent pilot thriving in a sexist, male-dominated field. Neither of them are looking for a relationship, because neither of them think they deserve/are capable of being good partners. They’re both navigating gnawing grief over the reality of losing family members whose love helped shaped them. And they’re both pretty sure the other one is too good for them. So instead of sharing their real feelings and smooching it out, they get themselves tangled up in a FAKE DATING SCHEME to try to advance both of their careers. Yes, the meet-cute is good, but the pining is delicious.
Like Olive, Andie Burke is a nurse who worked right through the Covid pandemic, including the early days when death toll was staggering. She says her respite from her own grief was writing this book during her off-hours. And that’s actually what makes this story so special to me. When I say that both Olive and Stella are dealing with grief, I don’t mean that it’s hovering around the periphery of their lives; I mean it’s like real grief, the kind that is always there, informing every conversation, factoring into every decision, flashing like lightning, rolling away like thunder, only to come back with a blinding crack when you least expect it. I am drawn to people who have a current of deep sadness that’s always running through their lives, because I’m that person too, and my soul seeks that kind of connection to be truly understood. Fly With Me comforted me in profound ways because it’s about love that blossoms in a shower of tears.
“They were mirrors in a way. Both of them watching their loved ones suffer. Both unable to help in any meaningful way. Both coping — one with work, the other with a list. Both scared shitless of hurting the other one.”
Okay, but don’t get me wrong. Yes, there’s grief. But Fly With Me is one of the swooniest, funniest, sexiest books I’ve ever read. Both Olive and Stella, who alternate narrating chapters, are fully realized characters with exciting, successful lives. Olive, especially, is surrounded by her found family whom she adores. They go on adventures, on dates, they get dressed up, the get undressed, they fall hard and forever for each other even though they’re both navigating really hard situations in their lives.
And isn’t that what love is? Comforting and empowering, all at once. Able to help you embrace your sadness, and able to help you experience incandescent joy anyway.