Astrid lives in a small town with her parents and younger sister. Her dad has to sneak off to smoke pot to make it through the day, while her overbearing mother barely leaves the house and clearly prefers her younger daughter. Astrid is confused. She is attracted to and involved with a girl she works with, but isn’t quite ready to come out to anyone, as she isn’t 100% sure she is actually gay. Throughout the book, Astrid feels pressured to fit into everyone else’s boxes. Her mom wants her to be popular and perky and homecoming queen. Her girlfriend wants her to come out and take ownership of her sexuality. All of this leaves Astrid feeling pretty isolated and the only way she feels she can express herself is by sending her love and her confusion and her questions up to the airplanes flying overhead.
I have a hard time connecting with A.S. King’s writing and characters. This is the second book of hers I have read and both times I sort of felt like the characters are just shy of being real and relatable to me. It is almost like they are a little too gritty and a little too weird. I hate to say that I expect gritty or weird to be endearing, but this book felt gritty for the sake of being gritty. And I absolutely detested Astrid’s parents. Her mother is awful. She plays favorites, is incredibly judgmental, and controls Astrid by trying to be friends with Astrid’s best friend. I guess this is what I mean by gritty for the sake of being gritty– Astrid’s struggle with her identity and sexuality do not need to be complicated by the worst mother ever to make them meaningful.
At the end of the day, though, I left this book thinking a lot about how we try to force other people (and things) into boxes and categories to meet our expectations of the world. I also appreciated the exposure to the experience of questioning one’s sexuality. I read this shortly before the whole diverse books thing on Twitter and have to say reading about an experience I have not had is challenging for me, in a good way. So… in the end I think I appreciated this book for offering me a perspective on being a gay teen, while not exactly falling in love with the characters or plot or magical realism.