Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Little, Brown 2012
*Copy provided by Little, Brown - thank you!*
When readers first meet Astrid Jones, she's sending love to the passengers in the planes that fly over her home. She sends it up to those people and the heavens and beyond because she is convinced that she doesn't need it here.
"But it feels good to love a thing and not expect anything back. It feels good to not get an argument or any pushiness or any rumors or any bullshit. It's love without strings. It's ideal."
Because here on the ground, love seems to be so much more complicated. Her mother is hypercritical. Her little sister wants nothing to do with her. Her father's new favorite past time is getting high. And Astrid is a keeper of secrets, both her own and her friends'. Because in their small town, being gay is probably the worst thing a person can be. And Astrid isn't even sure if she is, exactly. All she knows is that she loves Dee, the girl she's secretly been dating for months.
Some people will probably be quick to label this as an LGBTQ book, or a 'coming out' book, and it is, but it's so much more than that. Astrid is asking big questions of herself and of people in general, in part because of her sexuality but also due to the fact that she is a bright teenager and is also making fantastic connections to Socrates (whom she refers to as Frank) in her high school humanities class. And that's the bigger point of this novel to me: labels are so confining, and they have a tendency to benefit the labelers rather than the subjects of the labels themselves. Again, Astrid says it best:
"Why does everything come with a strict definition? Who made all these boxes?"
I read this book over the course of an afternoon and an evening. I had every intention of spreading it out, wanting to savor it, but that simply wasn't an option for me. Astrid's insights and her struggles captivated me, and while I wasn't sure if she would get the happily ever after I felt she deserved, I wanted to know that she would at least be okay. A.S. King's writing is magical realism, not fairy tales, and here I felt that she did all of her characters justice. The story was incredibly realistic, Astrid and her supporting cast are incredibly human, and the challenges presented in this novel are all very much a part of the world outside of fiction. It all breaks my heart and restores my faith that with each passing day, if we can learn to love like Astrid, then there's still hope, and that's a very big thing to have.
I don't really know what else to say about this book other than I'm so happy it has come into my life. While it didn't hit me with quite as much force as Vera Dietz (which remains my favorite King novel), Ask the Passengers worked its way into my heart with a simple honesty and makes me think and love in new ways. I cannot thank A.S. King enough for such a gift.
And so, I'll wrap up this review by saying I highly recommend this book and leave you with these brilliant words:
"Dude, what matters is if you're happy. What matters is your future. What matters is that we get out of here in one piece. What matters is finding the truth of our own lives, not caring about what other people think is the truth of us!"
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.
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