Ask the Passengers
By A.S. King
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Astrid Jones sends her love to the passengers of planes that fly overhead. But, in her own life, she sometimes has trouble with love. Like, she may be in love now. But with a girl. So is she gay? And does it matter?
Another book that has been on my radar for awhile (and even more so once it started racking up starred reviews), I had definitely been looking forward to reading this one. This is another title I bumped up in the reading list when it made the shortlist for the Pyrite over at Someday My Printz Will Come. This one I'm struggling with a bit more than I did with another recent Pyrite read, The Diviners. To be sure, this is a wonderful book. Astrid is an incredibly real and complex character and I loved reading her story. King is one of the best YA novelists writing today - her stories are affecting and real, stories that you lose yourself in and don't mind it one bit. As I've said many times previously, I welcome the addition of new books dealing with sexuality and coming to terms with the struggle that many teens face. This book is an absolutely beautiful exploration of that struggle - Astrid questions not only her sexuality but the whole of human experience throughout the novel. This book is about more than just coming out - it's about growing up and how it's okay to not have it all figured out by your eighteenth birthday.
So, what's my problem? In this case, I think the discussion over at Someday may have impacted my reading of Ask the Passengers. Over there, a number of folks pointed out that it's problematic in a book about sexuality to never have the identity of bisexual come up. While Astrid is struggling with her sexuality, no one, not even her pseudo-imaginary version of Socrates, suggests that Astrid doesn't have to be gay or straight, one or the other. To me, this is very troubling and I like to think I would have noticed and commented on this even if I hadn't seen it mentioned over on Someday first.
Unlike others in the Someday discussion, I didn't find the inclusion of the passenger stories disingenuous or detracting from the story. I've come to expect a step outside the box and a dose of magical realism from King - and I think the passenger stories are those things for this novel. Additionally, though this is a fantastic book, well-written and well executed on a number on levels, I'm just not sure that, for me, this is the most distinguished book of the year. Will I be sad if it wins? Definitely not. But I would be surprised. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I'd love to hear a persuasive argument in favor of this one.