In Ask the Passengers, 17-year-old Astrid Jones could be the poster child for 'questioning' in the multiple choice list that is GLBTQ (or similar). It isn't that Astrid doesn't recognize her mutual attraction to another girl, it's that she resists being defined by a category. A.S. King's latest book is the most realistic depiction of identity confusion I've encountered yet.
Astrid reluctantly agrees to join her queer friends in their plan to sneak into a nearby town's gay bar in the chapter 'It Is Way Too Easy to Get into Atlantis.'
"Looking confident and looking twenty-one are two entirely different things. [...] At first I was scared the bouncer might say, 'Sorry, kids, I need ID,' but then I realized that would be fine. Then we could go home. Kristina could go back to meeting Donna at McDonald's or the parking lot out by Freedom Lake and double-dating with Justin and Chad on Fridays like always, and I could go back to keeping my secret love for Dee stowed away in the deepest regions of my baffled heart."
The Jones family is dysfunctional to the max, but King manages to portray Astrid's sister and parents as broken human beings, rather than one-dimensionally horrible.
Astrid doesn't feel safe giving her love to the people in her life, so she spends her free time lying on a picnic table in her back yard, sending her love up to the people in airplanes overhead. Vignettes in the viewpoint of random passengers are interspersed throughout the story. The juxtaposition of their problems and preoccupations with Astrid's similar woes makes Ask the Passengers even more appealing. I was reminded of King's deft use of multiple points of view in one of her earlier novels, Please Ignore Vera Dietz.
The final passenger is a teenager being sent to a gay conversion camp. I thought of her when I heard the good news that Exodus International would be closing, the director apologizing for the harm the ex-gay group has done to gay people.
There's a lot of other great stuff in Ask the Passengers, like Astrid's enthusiasm for Greek philosophy and the bizarre relationship between Astrid's mother and Astrid's best friend. I loved this book so much that I hugged it before putting it down whenever my reading was interrupted. It is tender, honest and moving. Astrid is in my heart now.