“She leans in to kiss me good-bye, and when she does, I wish I lived on the right planet where kissing Dee Roberts wasn’t a big freaking deal. Where it didn’t mean I have to affix a label to my forehead so people can take turns trying to figure out what caused it or what’s wrong with me. And I wish I didn’t have to lie so much. I don’t think Frank Socrates would approve of all this lying. I think Frank would want me to cause a lot more trouble.” (78)
Astrid Jones has a lot of love to give but doesn’t know who to share it with. She has secrets, but isn’t sure who she can confide in. Her relationships with her parents and sister are strained; her mom is always working or stealing away for mother-daughter sessions with her sister, her father is stoned most of the time, and she and her sister aren’t as tight as they once were. She has a secret girlfriend, although she’s not sure if she’s ready to accept that label yet, or if she even identifies as gay. Her best friends are also closeted gay teens (her best girl and boy friends are believed to be the hot couple at school), but opening up to them about her feelings for her girlfriend would mean accepting a label and she’s not sure that she’s ready to be boxed in. So instead of confiding in family or friends, she often finds herself lying outside and sending her love to passengers flying high above, or seeking guidance from her buddy Socrates.
Astrid has read books where there are gay/straight alliances in schools. Because these are fictional books and because there is nothing of the sort in her town, she believes GSAs must be fictional as well. The bigotry in her town ranges from her mother’s referring to a a non-gay bar as a “normal bar” to her classmate joking about how the Nazi’s at least got one thing right when the class learns that the Nazi’s targeted homosexuals during the Holocaust. Her sister calls Astrid’s girlfriend’s field hockey team a “dyke picnic” and compares homosexuality to an infectious disease (“it’s like, spreading”). Even with such an unsupportive, judgmental environment, Astrid does have gay friends who she could confide in, but she’s not questioning her sexuality and feelings so much as her need to label them and she worries about coming out even to those who would most support her decision.
And this is where Socrates comes in. Her favorite class is humanities where they are studying philosophy. While she’s not a fan of Zeno and his (crazypants) theory that motion is impossible, she is quite fond of Socrates. She even gives him a first name, Frank, because she wants him to feel more familiar (having a first name “makes him more huggable”). Yes, she and Socrates are tight. He shows up at home, at school, he’s there for her when she needs him. He is her hero and her confidant. As her class enters into a Socratic Method project, her teacher explains that “‘this will be a time of asking questions and not rushing to answer them. A time of poking holes in your own theories. A time of thinking and not knowing.'” (44) As “the not knowing queen” she’s ready to keep asking questions and not worry so much about the answers. She feels a lot of pressure from loved ones to come up with answers though, and she recognizes that for whatever reasons they have needs around her self-indentification. Still, she’s determined to do things on her own terms.
Astrid frequently escapes to a picnic table in her backyard, lies down, and sends her love and questions to the passengers flying in airplanes up above. As readers, we get the opportunity to witness brief scenes with the airborne recipients of Astrid’s love and questions. While these scenes are diversions from the general plot, the experiences of the passengers add a feeling of universality to the themes of love, self-acceptance, self-discovery, and belonging. These vignettes are charming, touching, and in some cases quite powerful.
I think A.S. King might be the perfect author for me. I love her writing style, her characters, her use of magical realism, and the quirkiness of her characters and dialogue. She has a gift for making seemingly ordinary characters both realistic and highly memorable. With each book, she manages to delve deep into a character’s experience, creating an emotional read that’s also joyous and fun. In a year filled with amazing reads, Ask The Passengers was easily my favorite.
Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012)
Note: Review copy received from publisher for honest review
I loved this book so much that I want to share the wealth, so here’s a nice little giveaway to start off the new year! One winner will be chosen at random on January 9, 2013 to win a copy of Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only, 13 years of age or older. Winner will be contacted by email.
a Rafflecopter giveaway