A close friend of mine just finished AS King’s Ask the Passengers, and while she generally liked it she had a number of criticisms of the novel. Since we both liked it very much (I think you said it was one of your top two for the Printz) I thought I should bring her concerns to this blog. In general, they center around the complaint that the novel was inconsistent in its treatment of various characters and situations (disclaimer: these are my words, trying to capture my understanding of my friend’s ideas–I’m sure I have lost nuances of her arguments in the translation):
1) King makes too many assumptions about the characters’ relationships with each other. This amounts to a show-not-tell question. Thus, we are told that Kristina is Astrid’s best friend, and that Dee and Astrid have a great relationship, but most of what goes on in the novel involves Astrid’s very strained relationships with these characters. Did King show us enough of why Astrid would like these two in the first place?
2) There are several “false starts” to the story. The particular one my friend mentioned was that the opening chapters led the reader to believe that Kristina and Josh would be central to the book, but then Kristina vanishes for the whole middle section, and Josh disappears entirely. I think there was more to this criticism, but this was the example I remember.
3) The parents are portrayed inconsistently. Is Astrid’s Dad on her side or on her mom’s side? Is he able to stand up to his wife or not? King spends most of the novel showing what a terrible mother Astrid’s mom is, only to have Astrid basically say “everything’s OK now” at the end. Why not either have the mother’s character grow or give her what-for for being so bad?
4) My friend who, unlike me, went to a real public high school with real cliques and mean girls, etc. found Astrid’s participation in the Socrates project completely implausible. How does a girl who is scared of talking to her own friends when they are near the cool kids at the beginning of the book, and who has spent most of the novel being hounded by the rest of the school work up the guts to stand up in front of the school and make philosophical arguments, including a direct attack on the rich kids table at lunch.
5) One of my (and your, and my friend’s) favorite things about the book was Astrid’s refusal to be put in a box of sexuality. But then, at the end, Astrid has a whole speech about how maybe Socrates was wrong, and maybe we need boxes to help define ourselves, etc. Why the cop out? To be honest, this is a criticism that I had myself, that I was hoping that no one else would notice. I found it very disappointing.
There was more to my friend’s criticisms, but I believe these are the primary ones. What do you think? Do you think the novel can stand up to these criticisms? Are they off base? Are they true, but the good stuff outweighs them? As you (and our readers) respond to these, I reserve the right to refine some of these arguments, since (as I said) I may not have expressed them as well as I should.