Saturday, 13 October 2012

review: Ask the Passengers

by A. S. King
Little, Brown BFYR, October 23 2012
contemporary young adult
received from publisher (thank you!)

Moving to Unity Valley, for Astrid Jones, means gossip. It means boundaries. It means her mother acting like a pseudo-small-town mother and her dad smoking pot whenever he can get away with it. And it means she can’t own up to her feelings for another girl… even if she could even understand them herself. So she sends her love to the passengers flying in the airplanes above her, because if she gives her love away, she's free.
The cover:

I love it. The sun flare’s placed at a great angle, the faint, glow-edged stroke around the title's letters blends great and the girl’s posture and gesture matches the book and protagonist relatively well. The best part of this book’s packaging, though, is the colour scheme: the orange on the cover (pumpkin-warm but with more yellow) is contrasted by the solid purple cover beneath the jacket. And look, normally complementary colours (orange, green, purple) do not go together. But here, somehow the autumn warmth of orange is balanced perfectly by the cool, neutral purple.

The book:

It’s Astrid who makes this small-town story sing. So much could’ve been cliché, with the mean girls and boys, the fractured family, the iffy friends. But with Astrid so lovely to read about, the story carries itself. And when I say that I don’t mean she’s a lovely girl (though she definitely is sometimes)—I mean that reading her voice is effortless. She’s straightforward, kind, and genuine:
Can I admit I'm a little freaked out that Socrates only has one name? I know that's how it was done in those days, but it bugs me. I can't tell if it's his last name or his first name or what. And it can't be shortened--except to Sock, which is completely stupid. I want him to have a more familiar name--something laid back and modern, so I can relate to him better. So I stare at the picture in my book of the curly-bearded guy with the pug nose, and by the end of study hall, I name him Frank. Frank Socrates. Makes him more huggable.
Makes his clothes easier to label for summer camp. F.S.
(p. 53)
“What the hell happened to us, Dad? One minute we were hammering shit together in the garage, and then we just stopped.”
(p. 258)
Let's start here: Wearing a toga to school is totally boss. Given free roam of the school in order to pick fights with anyone who looks willing is also totally boss. I mean, I'm usually Astrid Jones, pacifist poet type who doesn't usually pick fights outside of correcting your grammar. But now I'm Astrid Jones, recently out lesbian who just go back from being suspended for saying the F-word several times right in front of the vice principal. This is a little different than I'd imagined it all quarter.
(p. 268)
The family is another high point. The sister dynamics between Ellis and Astrid are so, well, dynamic. Ups-and-downs spot their relationship but also extend to the other spheres of their lives, like school social statuses and how their parents treat them. And the parents: the mother and Astrid have such tense exchanges that are so hard to read but so important, because they need to be had. Both the mother and father develop and change. The father’s arc is shallower, and his smoking pot is somewhat handled more lightly than seems normal, but together they seem like an authentic, flawed couple.

Onto the actual coming-out: it’s dramatic and it’s satisfying—as it should be, with the build-up of the twisted emotions that's been happening so realistically for the past hundred or so pages. Mixed in with philosophy from Astrid's Humanities class, Ask the Passengers blends LGBTQ issues with philosophical statements ("Equality is obvious"; "Nobody's perfect") in perfect balance.

And I think that's the key word I'd use for this book: balance. Everything has its own place, including the friends turmoil, the sexual vs. caring side to a romantic relationship, and the brief passages narrating the stories of passengers in airplanes who Astrid sends her love to. The final passenger's story and interaction with Astrid is a little far-fetched, but with such a strong story behind it, I'll take it.

Rating: 4.2 out of 5