by A.S. King
Published on October 23, 2012
By Little, Brown BYR
My summary: Astrid Jones lives in the small town of Unity Valley with her parents and younger sister. Her two closest friends, Kristina and Justin, are dating. She writes for the literary magazine and has an afterschool job. But Unity Valley isn't a place where everyone feels at home. Astrid's parents are miserable, and her friends feel forced to live a lie. Astrid also has a secret -- something she feels she can't share with anyone: she thinks she's in love with her co-worker, Dee.
My take: A. S. King's Printz honor award-winning book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, is one of my favorite YA books of all time -- I reviewed it here. I've read three of King's books (all except Dust of 100 Dogs) and the three seem to share certain characteristics: a quirky/smart protagonist who's facing some kind of an emotional crisis; complicated family dynamics; and a touch of magical realism. I'll look at these aspects of Ask the Passengers one by one.
My favorite part of Ask the Passengers was definitely Astrid. Like Vera and Lucky, Astrid is anything but a conformist. She's an observer, one of those people who notices and thinks about everything. She also has a quiet and admirable strength of character. I think a lot of readers will relate to the fact that Astrid feels pressured -- for intimacy by her secret girlfriend, and by her peers and family to put a label on herself. Astrid stands strong in the face of this pressure, taking the time to figure things out in a way that feels right to her.
Complicated family dynamics
Parental figures in YA can often be absentee or one-dimensional, but not in this author's books. In Ask the Passengers, Astrid's mom is portrayed as a veritable Mommy Dearest. However, I'd argue that Astrid isn't an entirely reliable narrator on the topic of her family. She claims that her parents moved from Manhattan to Unity Valley because Astrid's mother couldn't bear to see a "For Sale" sign on her grandmother's house. Fine, except that Astrid also suggests that her mother hates Unity Valley with a passion. Astrid says that if her mom "doesn't leave the house, the gossips-in-charge won't have anything to say about her." Yet Astrid's mom also likes to dress up "fancy" and take Astrid's sister to the country club-- a place that, in my experience, is an epicenter of gossip.
This aspect of the book fascinated me. In Everybody Sees the Aunts, we're given an explanation for the crazy, passive-aggressive antics of another colorful parental figure -- pill-popping Aunt Jodi. In Ask The Passengers, Astrid really isn't interested in making excuses for her mother. It seems like her parents might be suffering either marital problems or money problems or both. But -- given the tension that can develop between teenage girls and their mothers -- it's equally possible that Astrid's relentlessly unflattering portrayal of her mother is largely a result of their strained relationship.
Astrid is clearly closer to her father, a guy who has coped with being downsized from multiple jobs by smoking pot and making birdhouses. One summer, Astrid and her father also made a picnic table together. Now Astrid likes to lie on the picnic table and watch airplanes overhead, sending love to the passengers inside them.
"I lie on it and look at the sky. I see shapes in the clouds by day and shooting stars by night. And I send love to the passengers inside the airplanes. It makes me happy ... it feels good to love a thing and not expect anything back."Magical Realism
Elements of magical realism are another trademark of this author's work. Ask the Passengers incorporates POV snippets from airline passengers who are going through various personal issues. In addition, Astrid, who is studying philosophy in her AP Humanities class, imagines that Socrates follows her around school. She's bothered by the idea that he only has one name, so she calls him Frank.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not crazy about magical realism. However, when A. S. King included the points-of-view of a) a pagoda and b) a dead kid in Please Ignore Vera Dietz, it really worked for me. In Everybody Sees the Ants, when Lucky -- who is being bullied -- imagines that he is heroically rescuing his POW grandfather from the jungles of Laos, I was completely on board. In both of those books, the magical realism aspects fit and enhanced both the themes of the story and the main characters' emotional turmoil. I'm not sure that I can say the same for Frank and the airplanes. To me, these elements never really felt like an integral part of the story.
That aside, I still wholeheartedly recommend Ask The Passengers. I think that A. S. King is one of the most talented and imaginative writers in young adult fiction, and Astrid is definitely one of my favorite new YA characters of 2012.
I found Please Ignore Vera Dietz to be super depressing and not exactly my kind of style. Now there does seem to be some humor in "Frank" (I love the idea of giving Socrates another name) but will this book bring me down like PIVD?ReplyDelete
WOW -- until you left this comment, I thought you were the blogger whose opinion I agreed with most on YA books. LOL -- that's what makes discussing books so interesting.Delete
Okay, my mind is still blown, so it is hard for me to answer your question. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is probably a sadder book -- in the sense that it is more about death -- than this one.
While I thought all the A. S. King books I've read are realistic, I didn't find any of them depressing. I found humor in all of them, but to me Vera was a much funnier character than Astrid.
My answer: I have no idea. And are you sure someone hasn't hijacked your account? Is this really you???
Great review Jen! I love the whole story and magical realism! Happy Reading! :) Is Sandy still in NYC?ReplyDelete
Thanks for asking. Things are getting a little better. Parts of the subway are running again, which helps a lot. The grocery stores are finally being restocked. But there are stlll a lot of people who have not had power or water for days.Delete
So glad that your area didn't suffer much in the way of power loss. It's surreal to watch on the news. I've been through plenty of hurricanes, a couple of really bad ones, so I know how tough it is for everyone. I hope power is restored all around soon so everyone can start getting back to normal:)Delete
I have yet to read a book by A.S. King, but I do have this one at home. I'm happy that Astrid got such an honor!! I'm looking forward to reading this story even more now. :)ReplyDelete
Jess @ Gone with the Words - Check out my latest post: Review: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
Personality-wise, I am a lot like Astrid, so I related to her quite a bit.Delete
Off to check out your review of DoBaS. Just finished that!
What an awesome review! (Really, one of the best I've read:) Like Jess I have to admit I haven't read anything by this author either. In fact, I had never even heard of her until I started blogging. I wish my library carried her work, but I'm on the waiting list on Paperback Swap for 3 of her books. But your review really makes want to go check something out by her NOW. So, in your opinion, which of her books would be a good place to start?ReplyDelete
IIf you don't mind quirky books, I'd start with Vera. That is -- without question -- my favorite of her books. Yes, the talking pagoda and POV from the dead are a little different, but I love quirk.Delete
Ask the Passengers seemed much more conventional in style to me. Like a contemporary YA with some magical realism that could have been cut out without any loss to the story.
I just recently read Everybody Sees the Ants. That one was harder for me to get into -- I think the magical realism elements were the most out-there -- but in the end I really liked it.
Awesome review!! This sounds like a really great book. I haven't read any of this authors books, but I have Please Ignore Vera Dietz on my list of audiobooks to check out of the library. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy.ReplyDelete
I liked Vera so much that I read the book and then later listened to the audio. The audiobook is great -- I think you'll enjoy it!Delete
Well I like quirky characters and complicated dynamics.ReplyDelete
I haven't read anything by her, but it sounds good!
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog
Try one of her books!Delete
This looks like a beautiful novel!! I'm so glad you liked it. :) I hope I can read it soon ...ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it!Delete
Oh, I loved this book! I loved how thoughtful Astrid was. And defiant. The passages about the passengers won me over. Such beautiful, magical moments. So happy you enjoyed AtP!ReplyDelete
Astrid was great, wasn't she?Delete
It's funny, I wasn't a huge fan of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, but this one sounds like it's something I'd like to read. I enjoyed the writing in PIVD but the story itself was a little too depressing for me. Maybe I'll give A.S. King another try and read Ask The Passengers. I'm kind of interested to see how the POV of the passengers comes into play during the story. It seems so random, but I always think about what the people in airplanes are doing when I see them fly by, so I think it'd be cool to read about! Great review!ReplyDelete
Jesse @ Pretty in Fiction
I love it when people have completely opposite reaction to books than I did. Try it and let me know if the passengers worked for you!Delete
Ugh, I am beginning to really wish that I had snagged this book at BEA, it sounds amazing!ReplyDelete
I didn't even see it there!!Delete
What a great review! I feel lame that I haven't even picked up any books by this author yet. And I am pretty sure A.S. Kind was even at a local event back in May. I really think I would enjoy Astrid's character. :)ReplyDelete
*King not Kind. lol Oops.Delete
I've heard such good things about this and I really want to read it. I'm glad you liked it. I've wanted to read Everyone Sees the Ants for a while now.ReplyDelete
"Astrid stands strong in the face of this pressure, taking the time to figure things out in a way that feels right to her." We don't get nearly enough of that in YA. Too often the main characters either succumb to the pressures and the book is about the consequences, or they've already made a good decision and again the book follows the story after that process. But I wish we had more books that portray a struggle like this one.ReplyDelete
WHY HAVEN'T I READ A.S. KING YET? Her name is boss, and so are her books apparently, so I have no legitimate excuse. I think it's time.
I loved that part of the book. Everyone was pressuring her, and she was just NOT allowing herself to be pushed around.Delete