I picked up A. S King’s Ask The Passengers on a whim at my local library and I’m very glad I did. The novel follows Astrid Jones’ as she struggles with falling in love with a girl and what that means for her family and her identity in a small town in which everyone knows everyone and everyone is trying to be perfect.
King’s exploration of sexual identity is nicely done. I liked it especially because the novel outlines something that a lot of people get wrong: being gay isn’t just about sex; t’s just people falling in love with people who happen to be the same gender. There’s an extremely comical and gross scene in the novel where Astrid’s sister comes out of the shower in a towel, sees Astrid, and sprints for her bedroom as though Astrid would have been aroused by her own sister’s naked body. Which, Astrid notes, is incredibly gross a number of times. The girl Astrid is falling in love with is a little forceful sexually, which also adds to the whole argument. She soon catches on herself and understands why Astrid doesn’t just want to get “hot and heavy” (quoting the book) straight away.
The responses of the town and of Astrid’s family to her connection with a gay club in Atlantis, to which her secretly gay best friends take her, show just how stupid people can be. There’s a lot of name-calling and back-stabbing bullying thrown at Astrid in her school. Which sucks. But I think the thing I found most annoying was the way her family responded, particularly Astrid’s mother, who disowns her more than she already had. There are lots of moments that are sad, as Astrid feels alienated from everyone for the majority of the novel, including from her best friend who betrayed her.
Surrounding Astrid’s slow self-analysis of her feelings is philosophical discussions on such philosophers as Socrates, Zeno of Elea and Plato. Astrid takes philosophy class and the way that her thoughts about theories such as paradoxes are used in the novel is really fascinating and clever.
Not only is this a very smart novel, but it’s also extremely funny. I found myself laughing out loud certain moments, such as Astrid’s observations of her stoner dad or her corrections of a particularly immature bullying remark written on her teacher’s office door.
The other significant part of the novel that I really liked is how Astrid spends time lying on the picnic table in her backyard and sending love up to the passengers in the airplanes. She does this because she doesn’t feel loved in real life. It’s quite sweet and something I think would be really relaxing and nice. There’s a strange connection between Astrid and the passengers, which I’m not sure worked, however. Throughout the novel there are snippets of the passenger’s thoughts thrown in. It was interesting, but sometimes it seemed to disrupt the flow of Astrid’s story a little.
In all, this was a lovely read. The writing was clean and witty. The characters were wonderful. The complex ideas and themes were used skilfully in the novel. It really reminded me again how much I wish everyone could be accepted for who they are and that equality is possible. An important LGBT novel, that’s for sure.