A.S. King’s newest YA novel Ask the Passengers is the story of Astrid, who is struggling with her feelings towards herself as a possible lesbian, her pseudo-girlfriend Dee who is a bit too pushy with the sex stuff, her disapproving mother, her princess of a sister, and the rumor-mill community in which she was transplanted as a young teenager. She allows herself to be pushed around, fine with the status quo, knowing that in not too distant a future, she will leave. She is so unselfish that she spends her free time sending words of love to passengers on the airplanes that fly over her house. She lays in solitude on a picnic table and has imaginary conversations with those passengers, asking them the philosophical questions that she asks herself. Is love something that will always be available? Will it always be confined and untrustworthy like it feels today? Is there enough to go around?
I know I just changed things, but I’m not sure if the change is for better or worse. So, I just send my love up. Away from here because love shouldn’t hang around confusion like this. It deserves a full commitment.
Astrid sends her love to the bullies, the gossipers, and the people who hold her down. She seems them for what they really are:
I see them shackled to the waxed floor, ankle cuffs digging into their skin….I see the ones who will never leave and the ones who have to return because they can’t handle what’s outside. Which is: nothing. Nothing is outside. Rumors don’t matter. Unity Valley reputations don’t matter. Whether I’m gay or not doesn’t matter.
I’m writing this through tears. Not the tears that I shed when I finish a good book (oh, like you’ve never one that…). Not the tears I cry when a beloved character dies (oh, Dobby). No, these are the tears that come up when I feel deep inside of me that someone is being treated unfairly, and there is (next to) nothing I can do about it. (Except vote appropriately, and blog about my feelings. CHECK!) I can’t reach through the book and hug her and tell her that it gets better. These are the tears I cry when I see political ads like Maryland’s Question 6 denouncing marriage equality as anti-family, claiming that it is being taught in public schools as a way to indoctrinate students about the evil homosexuals. These are the tears I shed when I so poignantly remember my own confusion and feelings of loneliness as a teenager. Such a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness then at my own situation, and the same feelings now when all I can do is cast one little vote, or stop one kid from using hurtful words in my library. Not enough. Not enough, because so many people are being told “No, you’re not good enough” when they are more than good enough. They are far greater than good enough. They loved when most everyone around them called them names, hurt them with words and fists, or when they hurt themselves with questioning, self-hate, and denial. They are good enough to do anything, be anyone, and love anyone they want. Because it’s America! Right? right…?
This book should be read by every teen, regardless of their sexuality, social status, or level of geek-dom. King does a phenomenal (yet blunt) job of pointing out that gays and lesbians are no different, no better, no worse, no less a person than the heterosexual standing beside them. (And yes, I am infuriated that we are still having this discussion about equal and unequal. How someone can be undeserving of a civil right simply because of the gender of the person they love and want to devote their life to. I am infuriated that we have to take a vote on this. I am infuriated that equality is not ingrained in us as a people, after we all know what we did to Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, and what we are have been doing to Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans for years. How are we still having this conversation?)
This video made me so angry (from principle, not at the pastor…Amen to him!) who at first speaks vehemently against marriage equality, then makes a “slip” and uses the word segregation. He then tells the Springfield (Missouri?) City Council that he has been reading quotes from white preachers from the 1950s and 60s, “all in support of racial segregation”. He urges the city council to “stand on the right side of history”. It is a beautiful few minutes, and I urge you to watch.
I am inclined to apologize for the politicized review. But I think that my reaction is what A.S. King was looking for. The sad part is that I don’t have enough time or money to buy everyone in America a copy to read before the election, before they are faced with Prop 8s and Question 6s. I wish I had enough time to tell everyone to be selfless with their love, remember that time when you were punished or ostracized for just being you (or when you did it to someone else), and send your love to strangers.
The way the book ends…the passenger on the plane flying over Astrid. What she is enduring. I cry for her, and all of the non-fictional teens who are enduring this treatment, this pseudo-imprisonment, of being taken to Conversion Camp, anti-gay camp. Rehab for gays. “You’ll stay at the camp until they make you right” said her mother. So Jessica in seat seat 2A wraps her love for her girlfriend tightly and lovingly and tosses it out of the plane for safe keeping by whomever might pick it up. Astrid promises to keep it safe.
Don’t worry. I’ll keep it safe. Stay strong.