Young Adult Contemporary genre has become so mundane that every story looks a cliché and all the characters can produce nothing fresh, nothing new for the readers. It may be the fault of the genre, but then again, it could also be the book that fails to do justice.
With magical realism in its premise, coming-to-age story of a teenage who renames ancient philosophers and imagines them everywhere, this book is intriguing in the beginning but nothing special throughout.
Are you perfect or wish to be?
Ask the Passengers is not meant to be a light-hearted book. It deals with important themes that every teenager or even adult must face in life, the expectations of the society, the attempt at perfection and living up to the standards of people’s wishes.
“All those people who are chained here thinking that their reputations matter and this little shit matters are so freaking short-sighted. Dude, what matters is that you’re happy. What matters is your future. What matters is that we get out of here in one piece. What matters is finding the truth of our own lives, not caring about what other people think is the truth of us.”
The message that this book wanted to convey was quite clear. It was an attempt by the author to make people understand how strenuous expectations can be and how people can buckle under peer pressure.
This book, despite being an emotive one, failed to tug on my heart-strings. I could not connect to any of the emotions while reading this even if my mind agreed to all that was put forth.
Astrid, the protagonist of this book, is quite complicated. She has troubles in life and has a realistic persona. However, she is written out to be too dramatic. The title of this book suggests one of her quirks where she asks passengers on airplanes questions regarding her personal life. She also has a habit of sending love to these unknown passengers and other people in her life. While it does make her sound like a sweet girl, when the love extends to the people she doesn’t even like, it starts seeming dramatic and idiotic.
“Look, this is a loan. I don’t know if love is something I will run out of one day. I don’t know if I should be giving it all to you guys or not. Today, I feel like maybe I should have kept some for myself for days when no one else loves me.”
Another element of her character that deterred from the realistic path was the anger. She is such a docile character that no matter what she was going through, she would never scream or yell. She doesn’t have any outburst of anger that is expected of any teenager. Her moment of anger, or let’s call it defiance, is shown only once in the book when she makes a declaration of her sexuality in an impromptu way. Where is the venting out of frustration?
I, as a reader, found many scenes where I got frustrated or wanted to yell at the side characters. However, with Astrid’s lack of involvement in those similar emotions, it made me a passive reader, and so I just rolled my eyes at the teen drama.
Writing either makes it or breaks
The book had a lot of potential because it had multiple exciting angles. There are side characters who have problems of their own. Clare must take care of her reputation, and Astrid’s best friend is pushy and snarky. Her sister is more involved in her own life and does not support Astrid whenever it is needed.
This itself shows that the writer describes the mental attitude of a teenager who thinks the entire world revolves around her and no one loves her at all. With important factors like mental health, bullying, sexuality, societal expectations, the writing would have blown this book up into a major bestseller.
However, writing is precisely where the author fails you. The writing is easy enough for the readers to finish this book up quickly but not lyrical sufficient to carry the story on its shoulders. The narrative does not pull one into its emotive web, and so the book does not leave a mark on the reader’s mind. I could barely find any quote from it that resonated with me, and some are just downright absurd.
“I am equal to a baby and a hundred-year-old lady. I am equal to an airline pilot and a car mechanic. I am equal to you. You are equal to me. It’s that universal
Except that it’s not.”
Intelligent or pretension?
In some ways, the book is a mark of intelligence since the author makes us question even the minutest things. The way the author uses its characters as a means of invoking thoughts in the reader’s mind, it is quite bright. However, then the philosophies of Zeno, Socrates, and other philosophers make it seem pretentious.
While Astrid is also quite smart and so fascinated by the humanities class where she learns the philosophies and considers Zeno and Socrates as friends, somehow, even the addition of these philosophers could not stop this book from being a disappointment. While Astrid remained an excellent character throughout the book, other elements of the book made it quite cliché.
All the passengers that Astrid sent her love to were going through problems of their own. They were either heartbroken about their relationship, had job troubles, had just lost someone, and somehow Astrid’s love magically reached them and made it all better. Now, I fail to understand how this could even be possible or what was the point of this entire thing.
This book is about Astrid, a young girl trying to find the answers to essential questions in life that no one thinks about. The problem is that she lives in a town full of bigots, has a disappointing family and is studying in a rumor-mill. She has a secret girlfriend whom she is confused about, and so she talks to herself (or the passengers on airplanes, according to the book) because she cannot speak to anyone else.
About the Author
Pallavi Sareen is an avid reader, a harsh critic, bibliophile, and a dreamer. Accustomed to telling stories, she spends her time amidst the pages of either a book or her diary.