January 26, 2015

Ask the Passengers

My second A.S. King, also excellent. YA author Lauren Myracle's description of the book's "stardust and guts" is apt. Astrid Jones is very similar to Glory O'Brien, though less sharp and more ambivalent. She finds a lot wrong with the world, is disappointed in others, and is unsure of what her purpose is. Astrid lies on a bench in her backyard and sends love to passengers in planes flying above. I'm learning that King's characters' quirks would be annoying in other books, but they are so integral to her characters.

Astrid's connection with the passengers of the title reminds me of the way that Glory purposefully smiles at strangers and keeps track of which ones smile back. King is dealing in our connections with one another and how her characters' ability to be honest about who they are strengthens or weakens those connections. At one point in Ask the Passengers, Astrid questions the need to teach tolerance; she thinks that not-bullying should be innate and obvious to kids, that it's absurd to have an anti-tolerance pep rally. Mocking this kind of thing is straight out of Heathers, for me. But cultivating empathy is an actual thing! Clearly we can't just hope that kids will be nice.

Astrid's family moved from New York City to a small town where the family still doesn't fit in. You get the feeling that there aren't that many people who just fit in, though. Most people have to fake it to some degree. Dad smokes pot, Mom wears high heels in the house and cooks complicated and pretentious dishes that nobody enjoys, younger sister Ellis is popular, but fragile and the two sisters aren't close the way they used to be. Astrid doesn't build elaborate birdhouses with Dad anymore--a symbol for their nonconformity and their splitting apart. All Astrid seems to care about is philosophy and she is content with a "bookshelf, t shirts, and jeans," while her Mom, brittle and striving, wants her to date boys and work toward being a wealthy and successful adult. I was uncomfortable with how cartoonish Astrid's mother, Claire, was. She was so grotesque and unpleasant in a familiar way. Mothers are so often portrayed as the repressive, controlling enemy to creativity and freedom, while dad's potheadedness (and driving whilst high?) makes him more tolerable to his teenage kin. However, the poisonous feelings between Astrid and Claire served the narrative and were scarily real.

With characters like Astrid and Glory, who feel like they're wearing the They Live glasses, I always go back to one of the only YA authors I read as an actual teen, Francesca Lia Block. The opening of Weetzie Bat has always resonated with me:

"The reason Weetzie Bat hated high school was because no one understood. They didn't even realize where they were living. They didn't care that Marilyn's prints were practically in their backyard at Graumann's; that you could buy tomahawks and plastic palm tree wallets at Farmer's Market, and the wildest, cheapest cheese and bean and hot dog and pastrami burritos at Oki Dogs; that the waitresses wore skates at the Jetson-style Tiny Naylor's; that there was a fountain that turned tropical soda-pop colors, and a canyon where Jim Morrison and Houdini used to live[...]There was no one who cared."

A.S. King beautifully ties together Socratic uncertainty with one of the "Qs" of LGBTQ. I really loved the way that Astrid's relationships with Kristina and Dee unfolded and the way that she revealed and articulated her sexuality.

Posted by kathryn at January 26, 2015 02:30 PM
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