Author: A. S. King
Genre: Contemporary, LGQTB, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication date: October 23
Hardcover: 296 pages
Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.
As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.
In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher
Why did I read this book: I’ve read all of A.S. King’s books. Although I was not a huge fan of The Dust of 100 Dogs, I absolutely loved Please Ignore Vera Dietz (a top 10 read of 2010) and Everybody Sees the Ants. The topic of this novel and well as the overall good history I have with her books made me reading this book a sure thing.
Astrid Jones thinks she might be in love with a girl but she is hesitant about defining this relationship, and about what it means. The hesitation stems from not only a lack of familiar support – including her mother’s disapproval, her father’s lack of interest and her sister’s bigotry – but also from her own doubts and her desire to not be labelled or be put inside a tidy box. It also doesn’t help that Astrid lives in a small town where prejudice abounds, where people are far too quick to judge and where falling in love with someone of the same gender is not an acceptable part of the American Way.
And even though her own best friends are closeted queers, she feels she is not ready to share her secret with anyone she knows. Instead, she sends her love and her questions to the passengers inside the planes that fly overhead.
Ask the Passengers is ostensibly a book about love and acceptance focusing on Astrid’s coming-out story. Right off the bat, I think I need to say that the strength of Ask the Passengers does not come from it being a ground-breaking, all-out original coming-out story because it is not. After all, more often than not, coming-out stories are set in small towns and do deal with the themes of acceptance (internal and external). In that sense, there is nothing really new here despite what the blurb says.
That said, Ask the Passengers is still a resonant, beautifully written story. I loved the way that the story navigates between the very personal (Astrid’s very intimate voice) and the universal (love in all shapes and forms). This comes from the juxtaposition of Astrid’s story and the parallel anecdotes of love from the flying passengers above.
Astrid questions basically everything. From life in small town and dealing with her girlfriend’s pushiness for more physicality, to larger questions about definitions and fitting in. One of the coolest aspects of the novel is how it incorporates classic philosophy as Astrid is really into her philosophy classes. She absorbs or rejects ideas in a very thoughtful way. For example, she ridicules Zeno’s idea that motion is impossible at the same time that she enjoys the paradox exercises that the students must do. Above all though she is really into the Socratic method of questioning and often has imaginary conversations with him (after nicknaming him Frank, for better accessibility).
Astrid’s main arc though is one of non-conformance to what others expect from her, and to their need to control her by defining her. I get that and I love that she just wants things to come in her own terms. At the same time, she realises that those around her need those definitions and the novel follows her attempt to find the balance between her needs and the needs of those around her.
Another positive aspect is how there are several queer characters in the novel and all of them have different coming-out stories reinforcing the idea that there is no such thing as the right way of coming-out.
That said, I found it very strange that in the midst of all this questioning, not a single character brought up the idea that perhaps Astrid was bi.
Finally, I have found that A.S. King’s books tend to feature elements of magical realism (even surrealism). I am not usually a fan of magical realism and found it hard to connect to those aspects in this particular book. I do get what she was trying to do with the parallel stories of the passengers but to me they didn’t add anything but heavy-handed cheesiness to the story. Your mileage (ha, no pun intended) may vary.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
Every airplane, no matter how far it is up there, I send love to it. I picture the people in their seats with their plastic cups of soda or orange juice or Scotch, and I love them. I really love them. I send a steady, visible stream of it—love—from me to them. From my chest to their chests. From my brain to their brains. It’s a game I play.
It’s a good game because I can’t lose.
I do it everywhere now. When I buy Rolaids at the drugstore, I love the lady who runs the place. I love the old man who’s stocking shelves. I even love the cashier with the insanely large hands who treats me like shit every other day. I don’t care if they don’t love me back.
This isn’t reciprocal.
It’s an outpouring.
Because if I give it all away, then no one can control it.
Because if I give it all away, I’ll be free.
Additional Thoughts: We are kicking off Ask the Passengers blog tour today with an article from A.S. King on Inspirations and Influences. You can read it HERE.
Rating: 7 – Very Good.
Reading Next: Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans
Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)