The benefit of working in a bookstore is that there are books lying around (duh). Everywhere. Not just the ones on the shelves available for purchase. Oh no. There are also the innumerable ARCs stacked everywhere. One could drown in them. Though the novel I write about today was actually released in October, I read an old, battered copy of the uncorrected proof that I found lying around in the kid’s section of the store.
Ask the Passengers is stunning. I read it cover to cover Thursday night, completely determined to finish it that night. It’s not that it’s the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read. It isn’t really suspenseful at all. It tells the story of Astrid–a seventeen year old girl in a small, conservative town who is coming to an understanding with herself about her sexuality. Though she is attracted to and then later in love with a girl, she is not certain that she is gay for a good long while. Or, rather, she is not willing to admit to herself and to others that she is gay.
Lest my readers think that this is “yet another preachy book about the plight of gays in America,” (sadly, there are people who are tired of this issue) and indeed the world–it is not. Yes, this is a major part of the plot. But Astrid, like every kid searching for his or her identity, faces multiple crises. She must deal with her mother’s lack of love and her father’s apathy. She faces the lies of her best friend. She gets busted for underage drinking. On top of this, she is “outed” before she is ready to admit her sexuality to herself, much less to others. The rumors, snark, and ill-will that follow in the wake of a certain incident are heartbreaking to read–doubly so because there are people who endure that and worse in real life.
Astrid is a fantastic character. She is witty and fun, but her sadness tints everything she does. She is creative, and very smart. She names Socrates “Frank” because she doesn’t like him having only one name, and he becomes her conscience as she navigates the choppy waters of her personal and family life. What is best, though, is her ability to overcome. She is a person who literally sends love to everyone, even when they are upsetting her. Or she sends it to strangers. The quirk of the book–because there has to be one–is that she reclines on the picnic table in her backyard and sends love to passengers in passing airplanes. What is interesting is that the author includes one- or two-page blurbs written from random passengers’ points-of-view. Many times they can feel the love that Astrid sends and it influences a great change in their life. Very, very cool.
It is a beautiful book about a teenager who isn’t afraid to see herself as a person and stand up for her right to be so. She overcomes the judgement and ridicule of others. Though it doesn’t go away–just like in reality–she manages to live her life in a proud and dignified way, unbowed by the cruelty of others. I really think A. S. King did a fantastic job with this one.