CBR10Bingo: Cannonballer Says
I’ve tried to branch out more into other genres and new authors with my reading this year, and some of the bigger gaps in my library include YA and lesbian lit. Just my luck, then, that MrsLangdonAlger posted a review for not one but two YA coming out novels with female protagonists: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura. I’ve had an eye out for both books for a few months now, finally picking up Ask the Passengers a few weeks ago at one of my favorite places in the world: Powell’s World of Books in Portland, Oregon.
Astrid escapes from her family and small Pennsylvania town by lying on her backyard picnic table and watching planes fly over, sending love to the unseen passengers. She tries to do the same with the people she knows, but it isn’t easy. As often goes with small towns, everyone is into everyone else’s business, gossiping and criticizing and reveling in others’ misery. Everyone has secrets — including Astrid — but not everyone is good at keeping them.
Astrid has been fooling around with a coworker, bringing her to question her own sexuality for the first time. Perfect high school power couple Kristina and Justin are secretly bearding for each other, sneaking off to the city every Saturday night to hang out at a gay club with their real girlfriend and boyfriend, Donna and Clay. Even after Astrid finally gives in and goes out with them, she still takes her time revealing her own secret, even to her best friend Kristina.
When the club is raided, all the illusions of perfection are shattered. The gossip machine kicks into high gear, and the town’s simmering homophobia boils over. Friendships and relationships are strained. Parents are furious. And even after all of the revelations, Astrid stubbornly insists on being allowed to do things in her own time, frustrating both friends and family.
I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed this book as much as I did. The story itself was fairly conventional and the supporting characters too thinly drawn. The humanities class exploring Greek philosophy felt forced, and unrealistic, obligatory and trite. And though I found Astrid likable overall, she became strangely full of herself towards the end, and for me, she never fully recovered.
And yet the telling is lovely enough to overcome those issues. Astrid’s narrative voice is distinct and consistent, and I appreciated how King focused more on the issue of questioning than coming out itself, an experience too often ignored in stories like this. I enjoyed the brief breakaways to the airplane passengers, and King was wise enough to use that device sparingly to avoid distracting too much from the main story. And I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a Greek chorus, especially as employed here in the form of imaginary-friend Greek philosopher Frank Socrates.
A.S. King took a familiar story with familiar tropes and somehow made something charming and special. I have to admire that.