Review: Ask the Passengers

Ask the Passengers is a YA realistic fiction novel by A.S. King. The story follows Astrid Jones's small-town existence as she navigates high school, her dysfunctional family, and the bigotry/confusion that accompany her being gay. The book is notable for its integration of philosophy, a subject Astrid loves and references throughout the story. Her imaginary friend is Socrates, whom she calls Frank; he shows Astrid her vulnerabilities and is her conscience throughout the novel.

Ask the Passengers is not action-packed, although it is a quick read and flows smoothly; instead, the emphasis is on personal growth and exploring the characters, making the subject matter similar to that of The Great Gatsby. Most teens should be able to relate to Astrid's problems: a bossy and controlling mother, a sister whose normalcy alienates Astrid, the clash of fitting in versus being oneself, boring after-school jobs, relationship troubles, feeling different. King is adept at conveying Astrid's attitude and thoughts without oversimplifying or dramatizing her struggles. The narration is painfully honest. By extending the book to include not only gay teens but anyone who "feels different," King manages to draw readers in instead of alienating them.

At least, without alienating them entirely. One of the only issues with the novel is that as Astrid explores and accepts her sexuality, it starts to define her. At the book's beginning, she is active in the literary magazine and her humanities classes, goes to her job, and is generally a motivated member of society; as the book progresses, she is arrested at a gay bar, skips school, and lets her sexuality essentially get in the way of who she was before. This transformation is exemplified when she claims, "I used to be Astrid Jones, pacifist poet I'm...[a] recently out lesbian who just got back from being suspended." (p268) It's understandable that Astrid needs to be comfortable in her own skin in order to accept herself, but her transformation seems to have gone too far. Perhaps this extreme switch is only temporary. At the end of the novel, she goes back to rebuilding her family and organizing the literary magazine.

The novel is a modern take on the ubiquitous be-yourself story, with a fantastical element: Astrid, lying in her backyard sending love to passengers in planes overhead, literally sends packages of love to the people on board. Short, first-person chapters offer glimpses of the passengers' struggles and the comfort these anonymous packages of love bring. This supernatural twist enhances the book's overall message of breaking expectations via love, and works well with the book's poetic writing style.

Ask the Passengers is a beautifully written novel about the struggles of a teenager trying to navigate a hostile environment both inside and outside of her head. Despite her self-actualization process being perhaps too extreme for most teens to relate to, most of Astrid's thoughts and actions are harshly realistic and believable. The poetic writing style, slight fantastical elements, and philosophical musings add to the novel's uniqueness. Ask the Passengers is an excellent contribution to YA fiction.


  1. This is spot-on, in my humble opinion, Archana. Your last paragraph, in particular, really resonates for me. Your take on Ask The Passengers is clear, smart and so eloquent. Amy King would love this.

    1. Thank you, Tamara. I might send it to Mrs. King.


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