Ask the Passengers – A. S. King

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, families, Female Leads, gay characters, love

No one is perfect.

There are sort of three stories in one with this novel, which takes a little bit to get really into but it’s worth the wait. First, is the narration of Astrid Jones’ 17 year old life.  Her family moved to a small town from New York after her mom decided to buy the old family estate.  The mom is a piece of work, judgmental, favors Astrid’s younger sister so openly to serve her alcohol, take her on “mommy dates”, and favor any moment spent with her ignoring Astid for similar things.  Her sister is more small town minded than Astrid and focuses on what her schoolmates think.  Then the dad is clearly unhappy in a dull job and avoids his passive aggressive wife by smoking pot.  Astrid is also secretly trying to figure out if she’s gay and afraid to let anyone know.  Oh, she also helps keep the cover up of the perfect “it” couple at school, Christina and Justin (who are both gay, but pretend to be dating).

The second aspect of this story is when Astrid lays on her picnic table in the backyard and imagines the lives of passengers as planes fly above her.  We are given little mini-stories of passengers as Astrid imagines who is in the planes.  But in a touching way for a girl who receives no real love at home, she passes love to these strangers thousands of feet above her whose lives she imagines.  She doesn’t want to keep all of her love since she doesn’t feel she needs it all, but in a full circle at the end, it is Astrid who receives love.

The last part is actually quite funny.  It helps to offset the homophobic slurs that eventually get said and the sad lack of a mother-daughter relationship that Astrid wants, but doesn’t have.  Astrid is in a humanities class studying philosophers and she’s decided to take her appreciation of Socrates by imagining “Frank” Socrates and how he’d react to her life.    As she discusses Plato’s  Allegory of the Cave, she eventually compares those cavemen who want to stay living in the shadows to that of her close-minded classmates, and even her own sister who refuses to branch out from their mother’s favoritism to be an independent thinker.

cave

This is definitely a novel for older readers, not because of the many gay characters (who most are still in the closet other than their friendship), but due to the cussing.  There is a lot of cussing.  Once Astrid and her friends are outed (a raid on the gay bar in the city) prejudice and stereotypes become more apparent in their high school and Astrid not only has to struggle with the small minded hatred, she has to decide whether to tell her parents the truth.  She questions her arousal to Dee, her openly out female coworker and girlfriend.  There are great points made in this book about trying to find the truth and what people actually need to be honest and happy.  Even from her judgment mom, Claire, Astrid is told being gay isn’t a choice, you’re either born gay or straight.  While Claire hates how the gossip affects her and is not a warm mother to her eldest daughter, King has this otherwise bad mother say a loving comment which offers overall support, even if her daily actions are contradictory.

In the end a big discussion on labels and placing people in boxes to try to categorize them is the point – and being true to yourself.   With the humanities project of arguing paradoxes, Astrid argues against the idea of perfection and proves her point that no one is perfect, not her overcritical mother, her best friends, or passengers that fly over her house.  Everyone is simply trying to live and she sends love to them, but decides to keep some for herself as well.

 

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