A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ask the Passengers is a contemporary coming-of-age novel by award-winning author A.S. King. The protagonist lives in a small town and is desperately afraid of how her developing feelings for another girl will affect her rumor-filled community. There are quite a few discussions of sex -- orientation, virginity (or lack thereof) -- as well as several heavy make-out scenes that go just shy of the all the way. The language is strong: "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," as well as gay slurs such as "fag" and "dyke." The main character's parents aren't good role models (especially the mother), but the story does have a positive message about self-discovery, unconditional love and support, and not allowing closed-mindedness to dictate who you are.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Astrid Jones lives in the small town of Unity Valley, PA, but she's not a small-town girl. In fact, she's in love with another girl and can't tell anyone about it. Her mother is a Type-A workaholic who cares more about appearances than identity; her father is loving but usually too stoned to see what's happening; and her kid sister is a mommy's girl who fits in perfectly at school. Astrid's only friends are a popular couple on campus who are secretly gay. The only emotional outlet she has is a daily ritual of \"sending love\" to the passengers on planes she spots while skygazing. As Astrid starts to come to terms with her true self, it's clear that her love is being felt, however mysteriously, by the passengers in the sky -- even if life down below can be alternately isolating, thrilling, and confusing.
Is it any good?
King's contemporary novels always include elements of magical realism, and the fantasy in ASK THE PASSENGERS is actually believable. Because why wouldn't love aimed directly at a specific passenger hit its target? Throughout the novel, King breaks into Astrid's compelling story of self-discovery with vignettes from the airplane passengers affected by her earthbound love. Those stories, like Astrid's, are at times funny, sad, romantic and life-changing. It's heartbreaking to see how stifling and narrow-minded Unity Valley is, and even more disturbing to read about how selfish and unconcerned Mrs. Jones is toward Astrid -- as if a kid can be summarily ignored if she isn't reflecting your carefully honed image as a parent.
Astrid is a remarkable protagonist. She uses her directed love at those around her, all the time -- even people so unworthy of her love. It's her superpower. A smart, questioning girl who loves learning about philosophy and existence, Astrid uses the teachings of Zeno, Socrates, and Plato to help her discover that whether she's straight, bi, gay, or celibate, she is who she is, not who others (even the girl she loves) want her to be -- and there's something glorious in that revelation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about tolerance and bullying. How realistic is the Unity Valley High population's response to the news there are gay students in their midst? Is the bullying realistic?
What's the book's message about realizing you're gay? Should Astrid have handled the issue differently -- said something sooner to please her best friends?
How are Astrid's parents atypical? Is it realistic that her mother would so brazenly prefer her sister? What about her father's recreational drug use?
- Author: A.S. King
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: October 23, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 15 - 17
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love coming-of-age stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.