Bi Book Club: Fly with Me

By Natalie Schriefer

March 21, 2024



Andie Burke’s 2023 debut novel Fly with Me combines three classic romance tropes: it’s an opposites-attract meet cute with fake dating. Harried ER nurse Olive Murphy is terrified of flying, but that doesn’t stop her from saving a man’s life during an in-flight emergency. Her quick thinking puts her in front of the press — and Allied Airlines copilot Stella Soriano offers to drive Olive to Disney after their flight is diverted and ultimately canceled.

What follows is a magical day shared by two near-strangers. It ends with an even more surreal proposition: Stella asks Olive to be her fake girlfriend. Both women are out as queer, and their day at Disney has shown that they get along well, so why not create an arrangement that benefits both of them? A video of Olive saving her fellow passenger has gone viral, and Olive has been fielding calls from TV shows and magazines since the flight, an onslaught she doesn’t want to face alone. Stella is looking for press so she can get promoted to captain, an advancement that’s long overdue. What’s better than a love story to generate good PR? It all sounds easy enough, so Olive agrees — and nothing is straightforward after that, for either woman.

Told exclusively from Olive’s point of view, Fly with Me follows Olive and Stella’s fake relationship as the line between what’s real and what’s a ruse becomes more and more blurred. The novel explores questions about what makes a relationship a relationship, as well as themes of mental health, grief, love, family, and self-worth. Because some of these plotlines are heavy, the novel opens with an author’s note that doubles as a content warning for caregiving, loss of a loved one, depression, panic attacks, and a description of anaphylactic shock. The novel also briefly depicts sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.

Olive is out as bi before the start of the novel, though she doesn’t use that label specifically until about halfway through the book. On a hike with Stella, Olive calls herself, in her head, “a horny bisexual”. In another scene, Olive refers to herself as queer. Themes of bisexuality are relatively understated in Fly with Me, which subverted my expectations a little, but in a good way.

Early in the novel, Olive and her best friend Derek each note that Olive primarily dates women; her most recent ex, also a woman, is the only other romantic interest mentioned. Because Stella experiences a lot of sexism, homophobia, and racism from her coworkers as one of few Latina copilots, I spent much of the novel waiting for biphobia to rear its ugly head. Something like: “But if Olive is dating Stella, then Olive has picked a side. She must be a lesbian!” (Cue eye roll.) I was worried that Olive would have to have dozens of conversations defending bisexuality. I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Though something does happen towards the end of the book (I won’t spoil what), it turns out that Olive’s bisexuality isn’t up for debate. I’m glad it wasn’t the novel’s main focus, but I nonetheless appreciate that Fly with Me got me thinking about biphobia because it provided me a window into my own struggles: I know, logically, that Olive is bi whether she dates primarily women, primarily men, primarily nonbinary folk, or no one at all — and still I found myself worrying about what I’d say, in real life, if someone insinuated that I’m not really bi, or not bi in the right way.

Fly with Me was a great reminder that there’s no one way to be bi, one that I clearly needed when I read it. Olive doesn’t need to defend her sexuality on the page because there’s nothing to defend. As we know, a bi person may be attracted to one sex more than others. Olive’s noted preference for women is bisexuality. My own preferences, which are a bit more mixed gender-wise, are bisexuality too. We’re both real and authentic — as are the multitude of other ways to be bi.

Though Burke’s novel is shelved as a romance, there are a number of non-romance subplots fraying the edges of Stella and Olive’s confusing relationship. Stella is dealing with her father’s Parkinson’s diagnosis and the fact that she can’t control his prognosis. She’s also stuck as a copilot at work, though she should’ve been promoted ages ago. Olive is dealing with her own losses. Her brother Jake has been in a coma for nearly a year, and multiple doctors have said there’s no chance he’ll wake up. His health has driven a wedge between Olive and her family, who disagree on whether Jake would want to be on life support. This disagreement has spiraled into outright disdain and contempt, leaving Olive feeling like she’s lost her entire family — a struggle that Olive’s ex, Lindsay, wasn’t prepared to handle. Though the two broke up months before the start of the novel, Lindsay is still hovering on the periphery, making Olive feel like she’s “too much” from a distance.

These myriad tensions lend a relatability to the novel; they push Fly with Me past classic romance questions like “Will they, won’t they?” to also ask things like “What does it mean to limit ourselves?” and “How do we stand up for what we believe in?”.

Much of this comes to a head in the final chapters. I won’t spoil what happens, but Olive makes a few critical decisions and it felt just a smidge rushed to me. Her growth as a character is exciting, but it happens so quickly — she’s spent a very long time living for others, and I wish we got to sit with her for just a little longer as she comes into her own power for the first time.

That said, Fly with Me was an enjoyable read. If you’re looking for a book with a bi protagonist that deals with the complicated nuances of life but doesn’t focus too much on sexuality, this is a fun, steamy read!