Ask the Passengers by A.S. King is a touching little book about something I really hadn’t thought about more than just in passing (and really that’s a huge shame on me)– and that is–what is it like to be a teenager and not be exactly sure of one’s sexuality? I grew up knowing that boys did something for me–it was very clear to me at the age of three when I started slobbering on my TV whenever John Schneider slid across the hood of the General Lee and it just continued from there. One of my closest friends in high school knew after some trial and error that kissing girls gave her electric shocks while kissing boys was just a saliva filled exercise in grossness. This book tackles the in between of knowing and/or understanding who you are, not just in terms of sexuality but as a person. What if you’re not sure if you’re gay? What if you kind of think that you are but you aren’t sure that you want to be (due to the stigma/difficulty of small town mindsets and bigotry)? What kind of person do you want to be?
Astrid is a high school senior/ philosophy lover/ possible lesbian. She can’t connect with her mother-a martyr for perfection who focuses on Astrid’s little/more perfect sister, Ellis. Her father, after experiencing the silent disappointment of Claire (the mother) has become a pot head to cope. Her best friends (who are dating) are the epitome of high school perfection–Homecoming King and Queen, cheerleader, active participants in school, and are totally 100% acting as each others’ beards. Astrid has been exploring her own sexuality from dating a very nice boy named Tim to making out with the incredibly sexy and electrifying Dee in the walk in freezer at work. This gives her an idea of where she may fall in terms of sexuality but she’s not sure. All of this ties neatly into her philosophy class where she studies the Socratic method and questions why people are so willing (and desiring) to put everything neatly in a box when life rarely gives an answer that can be boxed. She makes a list of things that can be put in boxes…people are not one of them.
The people that Astrid can connect with are the passengers in the airplanes that soar high above her house. Often she lays on a picnic table outside her house and sends “her love” to them, by visualizing it and saying it. The people in the plane are actually affected by this, although Astrid will never know it (those little snippets were just adorable). That simple gesture that Astrid sends her love to them, albeit a little corny, affected me and you can see that it’s that act that defines her as a really great A-1, solid person. All Astrid was attempting to do throughout the book was to a) have some space to figure out who she was b) be treated like a human with human decency while doing this and to c) love everyone as a human being and get over the labels that don’t even matter.
The book was a good read and an important read. I see many students in my school struggling to either pretend to be something/someone they’re not for fear of ridicule and I think I may press this book into their hands and walk away with no explanation. While it offered no major revelations to me (I’m an equal opportunity kind o’ gal), it made me very happy that this book exists and that someone (probably much, much younger than myself) will read it and it could possibly offer them the solace that maybe there is no real answer …we’re people, we don’t belong in boxes…and the people doing the labeling probably don’t really know who they are themselves.