Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Review: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Title: Ask the Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: October 23rd 2012
Pages: 296
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Astrid Jones copes with her small town's gossip and narrow-mindedness by staring at the sky and imagining that she's sending love to the passengers in the airplanes flying high over her backyard. Maybe they'll know what to do with it. Maybe it'll make them happy. Maybe they'll need it. Her mother doesn't want it, her father's always stoned, her perfect sister's too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to: another girl named Dee. There's no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she's trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love--and asking the right questions--will affect the passengers' lives, and her own, for the better.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A.S. King is one of the biggest names in literary YA, and Please Ignore Vera Dietz is one of my favorites, so of course I had high expectations for Ask the Passengers. Sadly, though, those expectations weren't exactly met - i's a pretty good book, but I just wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped.

I had a hard time relating to the coming-out story. Part of it is because it's hard for me to picture a town as closed-minded as Unity Valley. On a rational level, I know towns like this exist, but I still have a hard time believing it simply because I grew up in and have only known a lot more liberal environments. I know a story set in an environment like Unity Valley must be relatable and helpful for some people, but since I've met barely any people that are as homophobic as the majority of Unity Valley, people's issues with homosexuality in Ask the Passengers just seemed overdone to me. That made it hard for me to understand why Astrid didn't want to come out of the closet: I found it especially strange that she didn't want to tell her best friend - who is also gay - about her sexuality. I know this makes me sound insensitive, but as someone who is used to a very liberal environment, it was simply hard for me to relate to the struggle of coming out in such a closed-minded small town, and therefore hard to understand our main character Astrid.

Astrid's relationships with the secondary characters aren't bad, but I didn't love any of them as much as I wanted to. I didn't really get Astrid's romance with Dee: to me, it felt more like the book just needed a girlfriend for Astrid to make the story work and less like Dee was her own character. I never felt like I really got to know Dee, and I didn't see the connection between her and Astrid that the story claims they have. I was especially confused about the thing that happened with Kim - it seemed significant to Astrid's and Dee's relationship, but then it was just never brought up again.

The family set up seemed interesting: Astrid's overly controlling mom, her disinterested dad, and her younger sister that is trying to fit in at school with those that are tormenting Astrid. Astrid's relationship with each of them is addressed in some way, but I wish we had gotten to see some further development in their relationships. The same goes for the passenger's stories: I really liked the set up, and I enjoyed seeing little glimpses of their lives, but I didn't really see the point because there is no further development of their stories.

A lot of the hype around Ask the Passengers is about how it's such an original and inspiring story. And honestly, to me, it just... wasn't. It didn't seem all that original to me, and I had a hard time relating to Astrid, even though I can see how the story would be inspiring for other readers. Ask the Passengers does have a nice message of acceptance, but it was just somewhat underwhelming to me, especially because of my high expectations from AS King.


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