Friday, May 31, 2013

Ask the Passengers

Two words: Standing Ovation

Is it just me or has the world of Young Adult literature been doing a phenomenal job with addressing tough issues?  Where oh where were these story lines when I was a teen?

A.S. King hit a home run with Ask the Passengers.  She took a very delicate issue and brought it right out into the open, giving teens a heartfelt and realistic perspective.  I can only imagine this is a very daunting (and risky) task for an author.  But not for King.  She completely nailed it and then some.

Astrid Jones is a 17-year-old girl living in squeaky-clean suburbia with her detached family.  Mom is an icy workaholic that cares too much about keeping up appearances.  Dad is a secret pothead who desperately wants to escape his mundane life (and controlling wife).  Sister Ellis is the athletic over-achiever constantly trying to please and impress.  And then there's Astrid.  A down-to-earth thinker who gleans perspective from her philosophy class, hates her judgmental small town, feels misunderstood by her family, and has a serious secret weighing heavy on her heart - she's in love with a girl.

Trusting her secret to no one, Astrid confides in the passengers flying thousands of miles above her quiet spot within the backyard.  She tells them her worries, shares her innermost feelings, and asks them the hardest questions.  They in turn share their own trials which have common threads that connect to Astrid's life.  With much hesitation Astrid finally reveals her truth to only her closest friends but soon finds herself spiraling through a string of lies in order to mask the truth from everyone else ... including herself.

In an almost desperate attempt to come to terms with the events shaping her life, Astrid, taking a cue from her philosophy class, creates an imaginary version of Socrates whom she lovingly nicknames Frank.  The two have conversations about what it means to be completely honest and why it's important to question everything. (The most brilliant literary move I may have ever seen.)

King's story is one that's been told again and again ... but never so poignantly.  It demands the answers to the age-old questions: Who am I?  What is real?  What is love?  It makes no assumptions.  The characters are forced to discover and decide for themselves what truly matters.  Laced with wit and out-of-the-box processing, King provides a sort of therapy for young adults struggling to be free.

Recommended Age: 14 and up

Quality Rating: