Ask the Passengers

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Ask the Passengers Book Poster Image
Powerful, poignant story of teen girl in love with a girl.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Astrid is very involved in an advanced-level humanities class that is studying philosophy. Teen (and adult!) readers will learn about three philosophers specifically: Zeno of Elea, Socrates, and Plato. Astrid mentions them and their ideas (particularly the arrow paradox and the "Allegory of the Cave") frequently throughout the book.

Positive Messages

The positive messages of the book include the importance of self-discovery, loving who you are, and being confident enough in the unconditional love of your family to share your true self with them. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Astrid is questioning her sexuality but refuses to put a label on how she feels until she's certain; she keeps her friends' secrets. Astrid's father loves her and tries to see things from her point of view, but her mother is self-absorbed and openly prefers Astrid's sister. Astrid's teacher is an ideal mentor and friend. Dee is confident about being "out," unlike Astrid's best friends who pretend to be in a heterosexual relationship with each other, even though they are each gay. 

Violence
Sex

Astrid makes out frequently with Dee and in a couple of scenes comes close to having sex, but either feels rushed or just generally not ready. Virginity and sexual orientation are discussed, and Astrid's mother is more than open to the idea of Astrid having sex (with a guy), as long as she's "safe." In the nightclub, couples dance provocatively and have hardcore make-out sessions in public.

Language

Fairly frequent use of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "dick," "douche," etc. Homosexual slurs such as "fag" and "dyke" are used as well. Students make remarks like so-and-so "eats p---y" and incestuous jokes about Astrid's feelings for her sister.

Consumerism

Some label-dropping (Astrid's mother is a former Manhattanite who wears designer clothes, even though she works from home).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Astrid's father smokes a lot of weed, so much so that she can always tell when he's about to or has just smoked pot. Astrid's mom lets her 16-year-old sister drink wine on their "Mommy and me" dates. Teens and adults drink at a nightclub.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bytobier November 23, 2017
Teen, 16 years old Written byorangealex December 8, 2013

Great Book.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It has some language and sexual content, but the author has a way of keeping it tasteful. This book has a great... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bydanceandsmile September 7, 2014

Read in seventh grade- enjoyed!

I think that families need to remember that this is 2014... kids do talk about these things. It's all about maturity. Sure, it is a parent's decision... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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