Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Hardcover, 304 pages
Rep: lesbian, gay, depression, anxiety, black love interest
CW: biphobia (unchallenged), fatphobia (unchallenged), homophobia (including slurs, being outed and violent threats), bullying, substance abuse, emotional abuse
Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions–like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.
As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.
In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love
I’m happy 14 years old me didn’t read this book.
What I liked:
Most YA I’ve read have one of two types of parents: the absent parents or the wonderful parents. In Ask the Passengers we get an emotionally absent father and an emotionally abusive mother. Astrid can’t talk to her parents about any of the shit she’s going through because doing so would only cause more trouble. When you grow up in that kind of environment and your friends and the characters in the books you read have a great relationship with your mom it becomes very isolating. You can’t talk to your mother and you can’t talk about your mother because people will apply your comments to their mother and dismiss your feelings. Astrid is the perfect embodiment of the isolation. She doesn’t talk to her friends, she talks to planes and dead philosophers
A.S. King chose to have a f/f relationship where one person pushes the other for sex. It never goes as far as actual assault, but it comes close and it is made very clear that Astrid is uncomfortable with the situation. The narrative makes it clear that you need to respect your character’s boundaries and unlike many other YA books there are actual discussions of what the characters do and do not want and what they are and are not comfortable with.
What I did not like:
I added this book to my TBR when I was 15 years old, or a year after I realized I was bi and two months after I came out for the first time (to a very small selection of queer people in my high school book club). If I had read this book then it would have pushed me further back in the closet. For the whole book Astrid’s friends, girlfriend, and parents push her to decide if she’s gay or not. It’s a boolean, true or false. There’s no space for bisexuality or even questioning and instead of challenging that biphobia, the narrative enforces it with the dénouement coming from Astrid’s assertion of her sexuality without considering anything but gay or straight.
Astrid sending her love to plane passengers could have been interesting, but the passengers felt like caricatures and their stuggles didn’t enhance the story. We got a page from their perspective so there was no time for their character to be developped or for us to see progress and resolution. This element would have been more effective if A.S. King leaned into the fabulism elements and allowed Astrid to explicitely communicate with the passengers.
Do I recommend this book?