PW Best Books 2012: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

John A. Sellers -- October 26th, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

It’s hard not to feel like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age for young adult literature. Amid the hundreds of writers turning out intelligent, thoughtful, and beautiful books for teenagers every year, a few seem to catch readers by surprise (or me, at any rate) with every book they turn out. Libba Bray leaps to mind. M.T. Anderson belongs on the list. So does A.S. King.

True, King’s previous books have also paired the struggles of contemporary teenagers with surreal plot elements and unexpected narrative departures (cameos by Socrates happen to figure into this one), but the stories themselves feel worlds apart. PW’s review called Ask the Passengers “one of the best coming-out novels in years,” but that doesn’t really do it justice—this is a philosophical, honest, passionate, and very funny story about figuring out how love works and what it even means. That said, it’s also hard to remember a recent novel that so eloquently describes the conflicts and pressures, both internal and external, that often go hand in hand with coming out. It’s not easy, and it’s not a cure-all.

When the novel opens, readers learn that Astrid likes to lie on her family’s picnic table—summer, winter, whatever—and send her love to passengers flying overhead in airplanes. “Because if I give it all away, then no one can control it,” she says. “Because if I give it all away, I’ll be free.” What makes this act so heartbreaking? For me, it’s the underlying truth that it can be so much easier to release one’s love into the void than to give it to those closest—the parent, the friend, the boy or girl standing in front of you. What makes it so hopeful is that that same love is out there, and it might just find you when you need it.

For kids facing bullying, homophobia, or a loneliness they just don’t know how to find their way around, this book is a lifeline.

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