Conflict, Joy, and Community in ‘This is How We Fly’

Anna Meriano’s This is How We Fly is “truly enchanting,” just as its starred Kirkus review said it would be. What makes it an exceptional young adult novel is its ability to remind older people what it was like to be young while showing younger people what it is like to grow up. Additionally, for those of us who are “mostly over Rowling and her whole universe,” Meriano’s novel serves as a reminder of the joy and community building which can occur in fandoms. At its core, This is How We Fly is an exploration of conflict within families and friendships, and the real world sport of Quidditch serves as the centerpiece for the novel’s action and character development.

When the novel begins, the narrator has never played Quidditch, so she has to learn how the game works, and readers learn along with her. Over the course of the novel, we learn enough about the game to make sense of important scenes and to understand how team dynamics might affect game play. Although any sport could have worked in terms of the basic plot, Quidditch adds a crucial element of diversity since the sport requires mixed gender teams. The choice of Quidditch allows the diversity of the novel’s characters and thematic concerns to develop more organically.

The narrator, Ellen Lopez-Rourke, is a recent high school graduate who is grounded for the summer. Ellen is a vegan, feminist, gender-questioning, and white-passing Latinx person. Because of her beliefs and perspectives, Ellen often clashes with her step-mother. Luckily, one of Ellen’s best friends lobbies on her behalf and establishes an exception to Ellen’s grounding. Ellen can leave the house for Quidditch things.

Quidditch practices and tournaments become the highlight of Ellen’s summer, and the time she spends at home is laden with chores, especially cleaning the garage. However, as Ellen’s best friends ask for distance and prepare to leave for college in different towns, she feels more and more alone. She isn’t making friends with her soon-to-be-roommate or looking forward to fall at all, and things at home aren’t exactly improving. All of the conflicts of the novel come to a head during an overnight trip for a Quidditch tournament, and Meriano does an incredible job of maintaining nuance while also tying up loose ends. Some works for younger people seem to insist on story book endings, but Meriano’s novel creates space for complexity.

After all, Ellen is an incredibly complex character. She is self-aware and cares deeply about many things, and her feelings and reactions are often big because she is so young. Meriano perfectly captures the interior of a deeply thoughtful young person. Anyone who has strong beliefs has encountered situations where they had to decide whether to remain silent or speak up in the face of a challenge, so even if readers don’t share Ellen’s exact beliefs, we can relate to her internal conflict in those moments.

While moments of explosive conflict most often occur with Ellen’s stepmother, she also experiences conflict with her father. However, she usually chooses to avoid direct confrontations with him. One of the most emotional scenes in the novel involves Ellen discussing this tendency with her father directly. Scenes like this are likely to strike close to home for anyone who has ever avoided conflict with a loved one. 

This is How We Fly is a young adult novel, and some people may still be operating on the assumption that fiction for young people is just silly fun. Meriano’s novel proves that assumption wrong, as do many other young adult novels. Young people are complex, and fiction about them is often complex as well. This is How We Fly perfectly combines the real world concerns that young people face with a healthy dose of silly fun. Fans of young adult fiction in general and disaffected Harry Potter fans especially will enjoy this novel which makes the heart soar (even though there is no actual flying involved).

FICTION
This is How We Fly
By Anna Meriano
Philomel Books
Published December 15, 2020