Ask The Passengers

By A.S. King
Published on October 23, 2012
Published by Little, Brown
Source: Finished copy from publisher
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.
So apparently my criteria for "amazing book" is: do I cry a lot while reading it? Ask the Passengers, like only a handful of other books I read in 2012, gets a resounding yes in that category.  I didn't expect to have a lot of feelings about this one, but I found myself sitting up late at night, turning pages and waiting to see how Astrid's life was going to work out.

Astrid doesn't have it easy.  Her relationship with her family sucks -- her mother favors Astrid's younger sister over Astrid, and her father is too busy hiding away from his family's problems to really invest in Astrid. She doesn't have many friends, she has a secret she's terrified of having exposed, and the friends she does have are also hiding some pretty big secrets of their own.  We wouldn't have a story if everything didn't come crashing down around Astrid at the worst possible time, of course, and the results are heartbreaking, even if they are all too real for many teens.

Ask the Passengers is a pretty standard contemporary/issues novel, if you read a lot of those.  I don't, so the chance to walk in the shoes of someone who has a life which I could easily imagine was a nice change of pace.  Astrid has a ton of love to give, but she's afraid of what will happen if people in her small town find out that a lot of that love is directed towards another girl.  So she imagines sending all of her extra love to passengers on planes high up in the sky -- someone might as well benefit from what she can't have, right?  There's a bit of magical realism in the story, if you choose to read it as Astrid actually, literally sending love to these people.  I think you can read it in a much less magical way, and regardless, it adds an extra bit of poignancy to the story when we occasionally hear from these passengers.

The resolution left me a little cold, which is probably the reason that's keeping me from giving this a full five stars.  Astrid's girlfriend Dee is incredibly pushy towards Astrid when she doesn't get what she wants.  I'm not going to let Dee off the hook for being manipulative just because she's a girl, and I dislike that the message of the book was "people can change" rather than "people who try to pressure you into moving too fast are usually no good".  Sure, the book talked about improving communication, but I'm always uncomfortable when the story boils down to "if they really like you, they'll change".  People also do and say horrible things to Astrid once her secret comes out, and no one really seems to face any consequences for it.  Astrid is much more charitable and forgiving than I am -- maybe I'm just a pro at holding grudges, but I dumped friends for doing far less to me than Astrid's did over the course of the book.

Despite that, I really did love this story.  Astrid is such a sweet and loving character trying to muddle through tough times with very little support.  You can't help but have your heart go out to her.  At the end of the day, things aren't perfect, but Astrid's got a solid step up for growing and learning from her experiences, and maybe this time, more people will have her back.

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