book review: ask the passengers

In a conversation with a friend I referred to A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers as “a YA novel about a girl who isn’t sure if she’s a lesbian.” And while on some levels that’s a fair description it doesn’t really tell you why you’d want to read it.

Astrid and her family moved to small-town Pennsylvania from New York. In small worlds gossip dominates and reputations are important and fragile, so Astrid and the secrets she keeps (on her own and on behalf of others) make a difference.

Because it’s A.S. King there are also these interludes. Astrid sends love to people flying overhead in planes and we get to read tiny fragments from some of those lives. They aren’t as integral to the story as all the escape attempts in Everybody Sees the Ants, but they were well-done. Astrid is also in a philosophy class (which reminds me of the best class I took in high school) and the idea of Plato’s cave and how it relates to small-world rumours comes up throughout the book.

I’ll warn you. In the end the world does not all come together and sing kumbayah, but King does a great job working within small resolutions and the fact that things can change, incrementally but really, is a big part of what makes her books so good. Quite frankly, if you have any interest in contemporary YA literature, you should read this story of Astrid and philosophy and love.

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