Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Astrid is not having a happy life. She moved from New York City to a small town in Pennsylvania. Just try to be different when everyone wants to know  your private business.

Not that her family is much better. Her mom, a work from home workaholic is constantly telling Astrid what she should do and is obsessed with whether Astrid has a boyfriend. She has the audacity to befriend Astrid's best friend Kristina who she chats with often. Astrid's dad secretly smokes pot when he is not at his low level office job. Her younger sister can do no wrong in her mother's eyes.

And so Astrid hangs out with her friends Kristina and Justin who are the perfect high school couple - at least in appearance. They are both actually gay and dating other people. The small minded people of their little town would never forgive them if the secret was revealed.

Astrid knows this and is scared about her own secret - she is extremely attracted to her co-worker, Dee. Astrid's never been attracted to another girl before, so she's not sure she is gay or not. Dee is gay and out to everyone and wants more from Astrid than she is ready for.

Astrid is truly confused by all that is going on around her and all the people telling her what to do. Her only escape is to her backyard picnic table where she lays on her back and looks at the sky. She sends love to the people traveling overhead in passing airplanes. Like the author's other book, Everybody Sees the Ants, this bends reality just a bit. In this case, the passengers receive the love.

Astrid's story is about more than questioning her sexuality or coming out to her parents. Astrid is struggling with many issues. Astrid's story is all too familiar to teens who trying to deal with classmates, friends, siblings, parents and even themselves in world that sometimes seems totally against them.

For more information about this book, check out the author's site and the Westfield Washington Public Library catalog.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August has a severe facial deformity caused by a rare genetic disorder. It is the first thing most people know about him. To many, it is what defines him. If you get to know him, you would find he is a smart and funny ten year old who loves Star Wars.

This story revolves around August's appearance because no matter what kind of person he is, it always seems to come back to his face. August is getting ready to go to school for the first time. Due to many surgeries and related health issues, August has been home schooled. His parents disagree on whether he should attend school. August has no doubt that he does not want to go to school. A visit with the principal and some other students eases his mind a little. With mixed emotions, August heads off to his first day of school.

Yes, there are the usual stares, looks of shock, and whispering. August has grow used to it. But over time, a growing cruel movement happens.   It spreads like a disease through a good part of August's class. There are no words to explain the nasty behavior we inflict upon each other for no justifiable reason. Each day is a test of August's resolve.

Not everyone is against August. Summer sits with him at lunch from day one. Jack is cool, but August worries that he is only friendly because the principal told him to be. There are times when August feels almost like any other average kid.

If this story were only told by August, it might not have the impact that it does, but we also hear from others including his teen sister, her new boyfriend and her former friend who has known August her whole life. The different viewpoints always come back to the effect August has on them. We know what is going on in the minds of August's fellow students even when he does not.

It is heart wrenching enough to think about an innocent child who is burdened with something beyond his control. It is another to live in the life of that boy, to know his thoughts, to hear what others are saying and not saying, to know that he is fully aware of how others perceive him. To understand, you must read this book.

Generally speaking, this book is aimed at older elementary age and early middle school kids, but it is too amazing to restrict to just them. I recommend this one for teens and adults, too.

For more info about this book, check out the Westfield Washington Public Library catalog and the author's site.