A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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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.
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Products & Purchases
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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.