I stare at the first plane that’s cutting the sky in two. I stare and I send my love. I send it to the woman in seat 5A who’s worried about something. I send it to the man in first class who’s not feeling well. I focus on the stars, and I send love to the aliens flying millions of miles from me in outer space .
Astrid Jones is “the not knowing queen” – a teenaged girl on her way to adulthood, juggling a host of troubles even the sanest person would be hard-pressed to handle with grace, let alone a snarky New York transplant who is suddenly, seriously questioning her sexual identity in the Small Town, USA.
First, there’s her emotionally-challenged parents: too-attached mom Claire and too-detached dad Gerry. Then there’s the fraying bond she once had with her younger sister, Ellis. Then there’s her best friend Kristina, the perfect homecoming queen with the big, imperfect secret. Not to mention school: loathing trig, trying to understand Greek philosophers, being a weirdo outcast, and dodging the rumor mill as best she can. And then there’s…Dee. And Dee is a factor Astrid can’t wrap her brain or her heart around. She finds solace in sending her love, all her affection that doesn’t seem to have a worthy target on earth, up to the clouds and to the nameless, faceless passengers that fly over her home every day.
A.S. King’s latest young adult novel Ask the Passengers (releasing from Little, Brown on 10/23/2012) is brilliant and biting – an exploration of not only finding one’s place in the world, but inside one’s self as well. Astrid’s struggle is a universal one: the attempt to find your own speed and rhythm through life, while navigating the paradoxes and expectations of family and society that can chafe against the dictates of your conscience. Astrid is a fully-realized and achingly flawed character, who makes very human choices in very unique and poignant ways.
It feels good to love a thing and not expect anything back. It feels good not to get an argument or any pushiness or any rumors or any bullshit. It’s love without strings. It’s ideal.
King once again deftly combines the real and the magical in this novel: Astrid imagines Socrates giving her unsolicited advice as he follows her around school, and her ability to send her love up to the passengers of the title is like a conjurer’s power straight out of fantasy. The reader is able to see how Astrid’s power changes the strangers that it touches: a woman makes peace with an old hurt; lovers get a second chance; a man finds it in himself to go home again. It is fascinating to see how these seemingly unrelated asides shine light on Astrid’s own journey and tie the whole story together with the ongoing act of giving love.
A highly recommended novel to lovers of coming-of-age stories, or those who enjoy young adult fiction that doesn’t pander or talk down to its readers and is as important for adults to read as it is for teens. Smart, real, and very, very good.