With all that build-up you will be surprised to learn that my initial reaction was "meh." When I read books deserving of the Printz Award, I want something special, super special. Hadn't I read this book before or a variation of it? You know the book I'm talking about, where the main character is confused about sexuality but the parents and friends all are too messed up or distracted to be emotionally available to help? Or the book that is set is such a small (minded and/or sized) community that the people are all in everyone's business and carry with them stereotypes and judgments reinforced by the rest of the community. And lastly, a tale of woe where the main character has friends and seems fairly well adjusted until one critical error causes everyone's opinion to turn on a dime. I hate that. Where are the adults when the kids need them and all the harassment is happening in the halls? Couldn't a story about a questioning teen ever be set in a supportive community with parents and adults who understand that navigating through adolescence is difficult and often requires TLC and in a world where school personnel who do their job to keep kids safe? *Sigh. Guess you can tell that is a big deal for me.
Lest you think I'm being a bit harsh, remember I am judging this book against the "special standard" in my mind for potential award books. And my first reaction was "no, this book doesn't meet the specialness standard." But what about the interesting conversations that Astrid has with socrates? And how about the passengers on the airplanes that receive her love? And why did I care so much about what happened to Astrid in her hour of need? Hmm...maybe there really are quite a few special aspects of this story.
I really enjoyed the blog post by A.S. King where she talked about the book along with her influences and inspirations. This post actually helped me see the book in a new light. She said that she really wanted the story to be about love. Please go read the whole post but here is just a snippet:
In Ask the Passengers, Astrid Jones has a lot of love. And like many people her age (17) she would like to find love, too. Except that she’s very confused about a lot of things. Because she thinks she might love a girl…and she’s a girl. And that’s complicated in her town and in her family and in her society and in her world. But it really isn’t. Love is love. Nobody can tell me it isn’t. Nobody can tell me that my love is more important, real or relevant than another person’s love.
She also talks about philosophers and her motivation for including them in the book:
So, when Astrid Jones explores philosophy during her time of questioning, she has that same mix of love and hate I experienced when I was first introduced to philosophy. On one hand, Zeno infuriates her because he seems to be complicating something simple. On the other hand, Socrates and his need to question everything and open minds helps her open her own mind and see the world the same as The Allegory of the Cave, and in so doing, he helps her realize that very simple fact—no matter what the shadows in the cave say, love is love. -A.S. King on Book SmugglerGives one quite a bit to think about. One of my teen readers, a male, returned the book on Friday with this comment: "Wow, this book is good. I'd give it a 9 out of 10. I think it should be considered for our Mock Printz." Sounds good to me. What are your thoughts on the book?