Review: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

** Spoiler Free review above the image. More in depth below with spoilers**

It’s about the feelings, and not about the labels.

I heard amazing things about this book, and then it made the ALA GLBT Rainbow List Top Ten and so it was on the top of my stack of the Rainbow List books I knew I needed to read. It was even better than I expected. So. Many. Feelings.

Astrid Jones seems to speak with my own voice as she navigates the difficulties of high school. A best friend who is more than occasionally less then awesome. A sister who doesn’t understand her and the pain of the rift forming between Astrid and a once-close sibling. A father who seems to have lost whatever spine he once had to weed and apathy. A mother who seems to find Astrid an enormous disappointment. A big city girl in a tiny town where she’ll never really be accepted. And on top of it all, Astrid seems to be falling for a girl.

Astrid finds her happy place outside on the porch table staring at the sky and watching the planes as they pass. She imagines the people inside and sends them love. She releases her frustration about her world not in anger, but by sending love to the strangers who fly over her. We meet a few of these passengers. We catch a small glimpse of their lives at that moment the receive the cosmic energy Astrid sends them. A middle aged woman moving back in with her mother. A young man who asks his girlfriend again to marry him. And… {spoiler! see below}

Through the confusion Astrid faces as she sorts out her sexuality and her intense feelings for Dee, she also grapples with the big questions in life through her philosophy class. And it turns out that all the questions she asks in class and out are essentially the same thing. Astrid’s emotional journey seems to mirror my own. It’s less about being sexually attracted to someone (though she is, and I was and I am) but rather the deeper emotions– love, intimacy, companionship. It’s about not wanting to choose any of the labels and being pressured on all sides to do so. It’s about trying to figure out what choosing a label will mean for her and everyone around her. It’s about being in love and all the confusion that comes with. It’s about discovering who you are and how who you are fits into the giant puzzle of the rest of the world.

Partially because Astrid is very perceptive and partially because A.S. King’s narrative is quite simply brilliant, we feel empathy even for those in Astrid’s life who make it more difficult. We understand why her mother acts like… well.. a bitch. We understand the betrayal Astrid must endure. We root for her throughout, but we also see how her friends and family are affected by her words and actions.

To me one of the most brilliant parts of this book is the emotional journey Astrid goes through. It is not simply a “coming out” novel. Astrid echoes my frustration about boxes and labels, asking why everyone wants to make sexuality and attraction into shiny categories. Her inner dialogue is not “am i gay or aren’t i?” but rather asks what it means for her to be in love with Dee, and to be attracted to other girls.

More below with some spoilers so be warned!

 

Ask the Passengers Cover

So… more down here.

Things I love about this book:

Astrid’s coming out to her dad.

“I just know I’m in love — with a girl. I had no idea of anything past that. It’s very Socrates,you know? I’m not questioning my sexuality as much as I’m questioning the strict definitions and boxes of all sexualities and why we care so much about other people’s business….but there’s a problem with that… If I do all this Socratic shit the way I’ve been doing, I endup living in this weird limbo that’s no good for anyone. The world is made up of clear definitions, which is exactly why Socrates was put to death. People didn’t like him messing with their clear definitions, you know?”

Astrid’s dad also comments that they have gay friends, to which Astrid responds that its not the same as having a gay daughter.

OMG, Astrid– YESSS!!!!

 

Astrid’s friend being the worst friend ever and Astrid kicking her ass for it.

Astrid has a best friend, Kristina, who by all accounts is the perfect high school popular girl, and is dating the perfect high school boy. Except that it turns out they are “dating” each other as a cover because they are both gay. Only Astrid knows. Astrid keeps her relationship with Dee a secret, even from Kristina and its when she starts to blend her worlds together that trouble starts. Kristina is hurt that Astrid didn’t come out to her earlier, or tell her that she was questioning things. But Astrid needs to sort things out for herself in her own head and heart before she can tell anyone. I love this, I suppose because I can relate. There were a few people in my life who were hurt when I came out to them because I hadn’t told them earlier. But even though I knew they were cool with the gheys, and would love and embrace me and celebrate me as I was, it was still a place I had to come to in my own time. In my own way.

The gang all go out to a gay bar that will let underage kids in, and get busted by the police. So suddenly Kristina, Justin, Dee and Astrid are all the subject of gossip in school. They are all outed. Everyone knows. And they all have to deal with their families. Kristina’s way of coping is to lie and say that it was all Astrid’s idea, that Astrid dragged her there. When it was completely the other way around. Astrid’s mother believes Kristina. Astrid, who was always sort of submissive in their friendship steps up and tells Kristina she’s being horrible. And they make up. Because it’s one of those friendships that is worth saving.

Dee

Everything seems to fall apart when they all get outed. But through it, Dee stays awesome. It doesn’t tear them apart like many LGBTQ coming of age novels. Dee has been out for a while and is a bit pushy for the two of them to have sex while Astrid resists just because she doesn’t feel ready. By the end of the book Astrid is ready to be intimate and Dee realizes that maybe she shouldn’t be in such a rush. I love how it examines that sex is something that should happen when everyone is ready and that no ages or timings should dictate it.

Astrid’s Philosophy Class

Astrid participates in the philosophy classes debate day, where the students roam the school debating their own paradox. Hers is: Nobody’s Perfect. So she debates what is perfection, if it even exists. Can it exist if no one is perfect? Can nobody be perfect if perfection doesn’t exist? She stands up for herself in the face of gossip and homophobia at school. Throughout the book she tells us what they say“They Say: Why would she snub a nice boy like Jeff Garnet? It’s not like she has other options. They say: She’s just like her mother. Thinks she’s better than us. They Say: girls in togas turns her on” But by the end the fuss has died down, and “They say:    they say:   ” Which shows how everything passes eventually.

Astrid’s Suspension

Astrid gets suspended for yelling “I’m FUCKING GAY!” in the hallway. Her offense is not being gay, but swearing in the vice-principal’s presence. This just makes me giggle and is a perfect metaphor for the world we live in. We care about dropping the f-bomb, not helping a young girl survive in a hostile world.

The Final Passenger

The last passenger we meet is a young girl being dragged to a de-gaying camp. She takes her love for the girl she is being forced to leave and wraps it up tight to keep it safe, then drops it out the airplane window for someone below to keep safe. Astrid receives this package of love. After all the love she has sent up, at the end of her journey, she lies on her table with the girl she loves and keeps this passenger’s hopes and dreams safe.

Scuse, me, I have something in my eye…

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