Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Review: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Astrid Jones’ favorite pastime is to lie on picnic tables, spot planes flying overhead, and send the passengers all her love. She does this because she has no need of love in her life with her messed-up family in small-town Pennsylvania, where neighbors talk about neighbors based on 10% hearsay and 90% stereotypes. And she certainly can’t give her love to the person she thinks she might love…because it’s a girl.
While it does nothing new, Printz Award-winning author A. S. King’s latest book, ASK THE PASSENGERS, does everything old in this subgenre of YA contemporary literature well.
Every year, there are more than a handful of books published about a teen’s gradual awareness of his or her sexual orientation. And I guess that if you want to pick just a handful to represent this subgenre, ASK THE PASSENGERS might be a good choice. Besides for doing the elements of LGBT lit well, it also gets the essentials right. Astrid has an almost soothingly relatable voice, and narrates the could-be-dramatic events of her senior year with a perfect balance of gravity and wit. Supporting characters are not perfect—you’ll start counting the number of times you want to slap Dee, or Astrid’s mom, or Astrid’s sister, or Astrid’s best friend—but their antagonism doesn’t seem to exist solely for the narrative purpose of making readers sympathize with Astrid. Instead, you really get to see why two people would see the same issue in two completely different ways while each believing her way is better…just like in real life.
ASK THE PASSENGERS is a solid read, but because it doesn’t do anything new with this well-trod genre, I’m inclined to think that overall the story will not linger for most readers. Everything gets resolved prettily in a cool 300 pages, despite the previous possibility of there being more layers to familiar issues: Why must each person be totally straight or totally gay? What’s up with Astrid’s mom? While the book hinted at further dimensions in all supporting characters, in the end, the only part of the characters that remain is the part that is relevant to Astrid’s own conflict over her sexual orientation. This led to a “flattened” ending for me, and I was disappointed, as these deviations from the norms of this subgenre were actually what made me most appreciative of this book in the first place.
ASK THE PASSENGERS will most likely most satisfy readers who focus on LGBT lit and readers who are new to this subgenre. While it’s a good literary demonstration of what can be solid about YA lit, it doesn’t push the formula enough to be memorable for me.
Cover discussion: Besides for being a bit too cheerfully toned for the book (in my opinion), I can definitely see this being Astrid, watching for planes.
Little, Brown / Oct. 23, 2012 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $17.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.