Ask the Passengers
by A. S. King
High School Little, Brown 295 pp.
10/12 978-0-316-19468-6 $17.99
Astrid would be the quintessential Q-for-Questioning girl in her high school’s LGBTQ support group if her small-town, small-minded school had such a thing — and the gay question is only one of many weighing her down. When her humanities teacher explains that learning the Socratic method “will be a time of asking questions and not rushing to answer them…a time of thinking and not knowing,” Astrid muses, “Perfect for me…I am the not knowing queen.” Socrates himself starts making periodic appearances, visible only to Astrid (who calls him Frank). Frequently driven outside by her nuthouse of a family, Astrid reclines on a picnic table and watches airplanes. She sends her questions and her love (because “it feels good to love a thing and not expect anything back”) to the passengers; each time, readers get a glimpse of a passenger’s own struggle with the question Astrid has asked — plus his or her satisfying epiphany, reached after experiencing a sudden sensation of love. As in Printz Honor recipient King’s previous novels, including Everybody Sees the Ants (rev. 1/12), these moments not only add humor to the book’s societal critique but also provide vivid images that heighten the story’s emotion. Astrid ultimately decides not to live a lie, as her closeted best friend Kristina has done for years, but wonders whether she can handle people’s reactions; she can (evident when she introduces girlfriend Dee to her family), and the book ends with Astrid’s skyward message to a young lesbian being flown to “gay conversion camp”: “Stay strong.” It’s a fine conclusion to a furiously smart and funny coming-out-and-of-age novel.
From the January/February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.