The Plot: Astrid lives in a small town where everyone knows, or thinks they know, everyone’s business. Everyone judges. So Astrid keeps some things to herself: like that her father is smoking pot. Like how she and her younger sister Ellis are no longer close. Like she’s sure her mother dislikes her.
Like Astrid has been kissing Dee, a girl from work. For months.
Astrid doesn’t even tell her two close friends at school, Kristina and Justin, which is both amusing and sad because Astrid knows their secret, that the popular, well-liked couple are not really a couple, both are gay, and both are covering for each other because being gay in their small, perfect town would be impossible. Besides, just because Astrid like kissing Dee, it doesn’t mean she’s gay.
So Astrid plays a game, giving love to strangers, staring up at planes and sending love. And the passengers flying over Pennsylvania wonder why suddenly they feel hope, or love, or calmness.
The Good: Oh, such a complicated, complex book, much like Astrid and her family.
Astrid and her family relocated from New York City years before, and A.S. King tells us only what Astrid knows, only what we need to know, but there are threads and hints of things going on beyond what we are told. King also respects the reader to not tidy this story up with a bow. Oh, there is a resolution, yes, and I felt so happy and hopeful finishing this book you’d think Astrid was sending me love from it’s pages.
It’s not just that somethings remain unknown or unresolved; for example, is the mother agoraphobic? Did they leave New York City for reasons other than a yearning for small town life? So, too, are the relationships not easily resolved. Rather, they remain as messy as they were at the start of the book, just messy in different ways and with more truth-telling and less secrets.
Astrid is struggling not so much with her feelings for Dee, but, rather, what those feelings mean. Is she gay? One of the things I really like about Ask the Passengers is Astrid’s process, not just internally (what she feels) but externally (what she does.) There is reference to a boy Astrid briefly dated (her mother plotted against the relationship because she didn’t like the boy), but not much about that. Astrid isn’t so much uncomfortable with being gay as she is uncomfortable with a label, because, good or bad, she’s seen in her small town the damage any label does to someone, how it limits them.
Dee is a bit more experienced than Astrid, even though they are the same age, and I loved how their dynamic worked. It’s the complications of their being together and it being hidden, but also Astrid not always being on the same page as Dee about just how physical the two should be. It’s awkward and honest and tender, and sometimes Dee is a bit aggressive, but Astrid is no pushover and vocalizes her wants and needs including what she doesn’t want. I loved seeing a couple work through what they were both physically ready for, using words as well as touch and kissing.
I said how Astrid sends love to the passengers she sees in the planes flying above her. I love that, and that image of Astrid, lying on a picnic table and looking up, up not see the planes as escape as others would but instead to share love. To be positive. And I love that every so often, we meet one of those passengers who are on the receiving end of Astrid’s love: where they are going, what is happening, that the burst of love helps in a way Astrid never knows about.
Yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.