“Ask the Passengers,” a teen’s exploration of her sexual identity, has two things going for it: humor and Socrates.
The Greek philosopher serves as an imaginary companion conjured up by Astrid Jones to assuage her loneliness and provide guidance—and humor. When you have to rely on a long-dead philosopher to keep your company, you need all the laughs you can find.
Astrid is having a tough time. Her family recently moved from Manhattan to Unity Valley, where her mom grew up. It’s not a good fit for Astrid, or for anyone in the family, it seems. Her father is perpetually mildly high, her sister is too focused on fitting in to pay much attention to her older sibling, and her mother hates her—or, at least, dislikes her. Astrid more than dislikes her back.
Then there’s her sexuality; is she a lesbian? Unsure? She’s pretty sure she’s not a dead Greek philosopher, but that’s about all she’s sure of.
Bright and articulate, Astrid is a likable character trying to find out who she is. She spends a lot of time alone lying on a picnic table in her backyard, sending love up to the passengers in airplanes flying above her. Vignettes of the passengers, all struggling to make sense of relationships, are interspersed with her adventures and provide a counterpoint to her quest for self-knowledge. Everyone, it seems, is trying to figure out what love is.
I enjoyed this novel because I like smart, funny, confused Astrid. I admired her bravery and drive and her determination to stay open to love. I was less fond of the notion that she had to choose a side, or a team sexually: it seemed that as she railed against those who sought to “put her in a box” she was eager to do the same to herself.
Making choices—about a partner or a relationship—is a big theme in “Ask the Passengers,” and I felt that the author did a great job exploring the ways we come to decide who we want to be. I cheered for Astrid and read her story with love, and I recommend this quietly contemplative young adult novel highly.