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I finally read Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. I’ll be honest, I resisted this one for a while. Despite the buzz, the praises, the raves, the Love with a capital L, the fact that I loved her other books (Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Everybody Sees the Ants), I just wasn’t picking it up.

Then my friend Tam reviewed Ask the Passengers for Bookbrowse and I caved.

I’m so glad I did.

The official description:

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to questioneverything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

My thoughts:

  • As someone who was transplanted to a small town in 7th grade and went to another small town for college, the small town setting felt real. It’s hard to be “different” anywhere, but it seems to me it’s especially hard to hide in a small town. I wasn’t especially different in any glaring way, but I sure felt watched. And I saw others suffer the burden of their different-ness. 
  • I ached for Astrid as she struggled with the idea of falling in love. First loves are tricky and confusing and exhilarating – regardless of the who or what gender. It’s not easy to know what to do, how to act, who to tell ~ and then throw in the fact that some people will hate you for who you love, well, that’s tough stuff. Personally, I loved how her falling in love felt so familiar.
  • And, I loved how we are reminded that love is separate from physicality. Even though Astrid realizes she’s in love – she’s not ready for sexual intimacy. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with the fact that those explorations are nerve-wracking and awkward. Those moments are huge and kind of scary. That’s what is captured here so beautifully.
  • Astrid has a habit of sending her love out into the world. Specifically, to the airplanes that fly overhead. This idea sounded kind of hokey to me and, quite honestly, was one of the reasons for my resistance towards this book. Figures it became one of my favorite parts of the book. After Astrid sends her love and questions out to the universe, we read a short interlude in the perspective of the person in the airplane – who “received” her message. These vignettes serve  as peeks into other lives and other kinds of love. They are amazing, trust me.
  • I also loved how we see so much of Astrid’s life – beyond falling in love. We get to know her (kind of messed up) family, her best friend, her work place and co-workers, her school – it’s a wide wide lens, yet lots of close-ups. The world is so real.

Okay. Now go read a fantastic interview with A.S. King (do you see how her name spells “asking” – ? !) on Tam and Sharry’s blog, Kissing the Earth.

And for those who are working on the craft of writing books for young people – I find this very very interesting. As read on Bookbrowse’s Beyond the Book exploration, A.S. King did not go to school for writing. Instead (edited for length):

She began writing after she spent six straight months reading a book a day. … Fifteen years and seven novels after she sat down at that typewriter, she got her first book published.”

Yep.

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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I read the ARC of  Shine by Lauren Myracle this weekend.

Phew! I survived it. And absolutely loved it. But whoa, it was a roller coaster ride of a book.

From goodreads:

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

This story is beautifully crafted. But it is also gritty and dark as well as nerve-wracking. I spent the first half of the book incredibly nervous. Shine opens with a news account of a gruesome hate crime – readers should take warning that this will not be a gentle story. Cat is fighting for survival with incredible odds against her. She has to deal with constant reminders of bigotry,  sexual abuse, meth addiction, as well as plain and painful poverty.

The voice is incredible – just the right amount of dialect and sensory details to set you firmly in the rough mountains of North Carolina. The writing is flawless and clear – I’d even say hypnotically beautiful – but with an edge of darkness creeping and poking in around the edges of every scene. Somehow David Lynch came to mind…

I seriously think I forgot to breathe in some places. At one point it occurred to me that Cat was probably going to survive, but I also realized there were worse things to worry about than death.

Myracle manages to bring all the many threads together in the end – but not with clean and simple answers – it’s the kind of ending that will lend itself to discussions. I won’t ruin it with spoilers here. I’m not sure I’m completely happy with the ending, but I also think part of my dis-satisfaction stems from a personal ache and yearning that was stirred inside me. I hate that life can be so hard. What I know for sure is that by the time I reached the end, I  would have followed Cat anywhere.

A tough, thought-provoking, and incredible story – look for it in April.

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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