A St. Pete author talks about their latest YA novel in the era of banned books in Florida schools
"The Immeasurable Depth of You" has been called a queer supernatural coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Florida mangroves.
An author from St. Petersburg released their latest young adult novel in April, but the recent book bans in Florida’s public schools have created an unexpected roadblock.
Maria Ingrande Mora wrote "The Immeasurable Depth of You" for teens ages 14 and up.
It’s about a bisexual 9th grader from Ohio named Brynn Costa, who’s forced to live off the grid for the summer at her estranged father’s house boat, tucked away in the Florida mangroves. Her mother makes the decision after seeing a social media post that raises red flags about Brynn's mental health.
Brynn has severe OCD and anxiety disorders, so she's terrified of Florida's wildlife and weather, but she meets a friend in the water who inspires her to push past her fears.
WUSF’s Jessica Meszaros spoke with Ingrande Mora about the novel, how it’s been received, and their experience being a queer parent to teens in Florida. A trigger warning for readers: they talk briefly about suicide.
This book covers mental health, depression, anxiety, suicide. Why was this something you wanted to put in a young adult novel?
Because this is something that young adults experience every day. I don't know anyone who hasn't been affected by suicide-- either someone very close to them, or, you know, in their circles. As a young person, as a young adult, it's happening. And I think it's such a sensitive topic, but that if we never ever talk about it, then it's not giving young people the language that they may need to talk about either needing help, or to talk about how their life is affected when they lose someone.
How has [your book] been received so far in Florida, in your home state?
I don't really know yet because I have not been able to go and be with young people in schools. So even though there was a couple months left of the school year, I had schools cancel school visits. I knew this was a hard book. I knew that because it deals with suicide and mental health in a really unflinching way that it wouldn't be an easy read. But it wasn't Brynn's identity, being queer, or like having a nonbinary friend... those things never felt it for one second like that was going to be what would be objectionable about this book.
What has it been like being a queer parent of teenagers in Florida, recently?
My kids ... they have a lot of queer friends. And my older child especially, there are multiple trans kids that he went to kindergarten with. So, I've known these kids since they were five. I know their parents and so it's been harder to see people I love that I've known for so long grappling with, 'do we need to leave our home? Do we need to leave the state of Florida now? And what will senior year be like for all these kids?' They're all going into their senior year.
I think about them a lot because these are kids who are fully loved and affirmed by their parents. They have ferocious parents. As a queer person, I love seeing my straight friends suddenly become really knowledgeable about the queer community, and they're like, really willing to go to bat for their kids, and they fought so hard. And then to have all of that now come crashing down around them from a legislative perspective... that's what's really been hard.
And I co-parent. My kids' dad lives here in Florida, you know, until they're 18, we can't leave. So, if I didn't feel safe, you know, I'm here. I'm here, and I'm doing the thing, but it feels hard. And it's hard to get into a creative mindset sometimes because I think creating from a space of fear, it can be difficult. But you can flip that around to kind of creating from a place of stubborn, a little bit of anger, a little bit of pride and just keep on going.
What do you hope kids take away from this book?
I hope that kids take away a sense of self-acceptance, but that's a long journey. So, it's not that I want them to close the book and get to the last page and be like, “Well, I accept all my flaws and faults, and I'm a messy person, and that's okay.” I don't think that's realistic, but if they can see Brynn start to accept pieces of herself and see that it's a lifelong process, I think that that would be a beautiful takeaway.
However, I was an anxious, quirky kid that spent a lot of time with books, and a lot of them I just finished it and put it away and picked up the next book. So, if all they get out of it is six hours of escapism, I think that's also a great outcome.
If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can find help by calling 9-8-8.