Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on October 23rd 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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.
Have you ever felt frustrated with your parents? With the community in which you live? With the world?
Then you will relate to A.S. King’s new book Ask the Passengers.
King is tackling a lot of really important and incendiary issues with this one, issues especially hotly argued in the YA and school library communities. It’s not violence, and it’s not really drinking or drugs, though there are bits of both of those here. The controversy at the tender heart of King’s book is an issue that shouldn’t be controversial at all: The right and privilege to be yourself, and discover who that is at your own pace.
When Astrid and her family moved from New York City to tiny Unity Valley when she was 10, her parents were just trying to give her a “normal,” small-town childhood. Now Astrid and her sister Ellis are in high school, and in the closed-minded, long-memory gossip mill of the tiny town, Astrid feels like the grist is always her.
So Astrid talks to the passengers in the planes flying over her backyard, sending the love she doesn’t feel she can send to her family and her community. King creates a character in Astrid that isn’t just relatable and admirable, but also vulnerable and recalcitrant and young.
This is very clearly and proudly a book with a gay protagonist. That’s in the jacket copy, and rightly so – King tweeted a statistic yesterday that fewer than two percent of YA books released this year feature gay protagonists. That statistic’s not reflective of teens, and reinforces a lot of existing problems related to the perceived marketability of books with diverse narrators in teen markets.
But Astrid isn’t just gay, in an important and delightful way. Over the course of the text, she is coming to terms with herself.At one point her parents accuse her of lying to them about being gay. She tells them that she wasn’t lying, she just wasn’t sure when she told them that – and it’s so important for that spectrum to be portrayed in literature (and King does it very well). Sexuality is not fixed, and not everyone is clearly, decidedly, immediately gay or straight – or male or female, for that matter. YA literature is getting better, but is still somewhat limited to the flamboyant gay-male accessory as its portrayal of LGBTQ teens.
This book has all the beloved components of a teen novel – love and romance, butterfly crushes, late nights and dancing. But King also manages to tackle issues of intolerance through Astrid’s eyes, giving them a grounding and a refreshing unpreachiness. This is an important book, sure – but it’s also a fun book, and a book that feels real. It’s a small story, with big implications.
Ever noticed how often teen books set in American high schools use the framework of the English class to teach Big Important Lessons to their narrator and reader? Perks of Being a Wallflower, Paper Towns, and King Dork all do this, among many, many others. But by using an unconventional philosophy class, King is able to still present complicated ideas like the trope of the English class, but also give Astrid a chance to a fiercely smart kid – yeah, just kid. And how many of us know – or were – a fiercely smart kid who felt like they didn’t fit in and wanted so bad to broaden just a few minds?
King also deftly navigates other common teen-novel clichés – the parents are done especially well, and care for Astrid in such a painfully flawed way. The scene where the high-strung advertising-executive mother tries to force Astrid out of the closet is so wrenching, and felt so very true.
This book is needed and important – but it’s also funny and fun, neat and light and warm. It’s not perfect — I didn’t love the interludes about the airplane passengers, and the portrayal of a small town feels a bit unuanced (though that might be a symptom of the protagonist rather than the writing). But I’m glad to have read it, and very glad to see books like this being published by large houses.
Astrid spends most of the book arguing against the philosopher Zeno’s idea that motion is impossible, and I’m with Astrid on this one, because everyone needs to use forward momentum to get his or her hands on this book as soon as possible (and write a few more like it).