February Author Spotlight: A.S. King

asking (1)

The works of February’s author are celebrated–not only have publishing industry journals showered her in starred reviews, but her Please Ignore Vera Dietz received a Printz Honor in 2011. A.S. King is the author of four young adult novels, these being The Dust of 100 Dogs, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Everybody Sees the Ants, and Ask the Passengers. She has also written a collection of short stories for adults called Monica Never Shuts Up. The title alone would have made me read it, even if I didn’t already love King’s writing.

The majority of King’s books feature rather introverted protagonists that aren’t social with their peers, but become very close to the reader while relaying their thoughts. The best example of this is Astrid from Ask the Passengers who keeps everyone in her life at a distance, convincing herself that they are too preoccupied for her. She’s incredibly open with the reader, exploring her questions about sexuality and love in a philosophical context at length. Even Emer/Saffron from The Dust of 100 Dogs is vulnerable with the reader–and she’s an infamous pirate with a three hundred year old grudge and a penchant for removing the eyes of others.

One trope that is fairly prolific in young adult literature (and fairy tales and children’s books) is the physical absence of the parents–while this situation can sometimes be true to life, it is definitely overused in fiction. This isn’t the case when it comes to A.S. King’s novels–in each of her books, one if not both of the parents have a physical presence in the story and deeply impact the protagonist in some way. In The Dust of 100 Dogs, Saffron’s decision to ditch applying to college in order to focus on searching for her lost treasure in Jamaica was complicated by her parents’ expectations for her. Vera Dietz’s father is rather overbearing in his attempts to stop her from making the same mistakes as him with his alcoholism and her mother’s teen pregnancy and stint as a stripper.
Emotional absence is another story. However, when King includes such parents, she thoroughly explores how their distance affects their child. In Everybody Sees the Ants, the inaction of Lucky’s parents when it came to the bullying of their son was almost more damaging than the bullying itself. Both were there, but threw themselves into activities like cooking and swimming to avoid their family. Astrid’s parents in Ask the Passengers are the same present-but-absent mold as Lucky’s–her mother distances herself from her family by throwing herself into her working-from-home job and her father smokes pot all the time to avoid the disappointment. In all cases, the parents play important roles in the conflict of the novels; they aren’t thrown aside to make room for a less than plausible plot.

Magical realism–touches of magical elements present in an otherwise mundane setting–isn’t something I’ve often come across in YA books. From the ants that talk to Lucky in Everybody Sees the Ants to the vision of Frank Socrates Astrid talks to about her problems in Ask the Passengers, the magical realism in each book is unique and is used to further explore the internal struggles of each protagonist. Magical realism is a refreshing genre to see occurring in young adult books.

King’s works are raw and compelling. Regardless of the magical realism elements running throughout the plots, the portrayal of pain is incredibly realistic. Be it a result of vicious bullying, the death of a loved one, or three hundred year’s worth of disappointment, King explores pain in a way that’s relatable–even if the character feeling it is the 300-year-old soul of a pirate trapped in the body of a seventeen year old girl.

These books are for anyone who wants to give magical realism a go, people that like relatable, introspective characters, or anyone that just appreciates good writing. I highly recommend them all, but I’d recommend starting with Please Ignore Vera Dietz or Ask the Passengers. When you’re done reading, I’ll be over here waiting patiently for Reality Boy–her latest book due out this fall.

Bri is a 25-year-old born and raised in the swamps of Jersey. Just kidding, she lives at least twenty minutes from those swamps. She’s a publishing professional that moonlights as a writer. She enjoys going to concerts (anything from Rooney to Springsteen to NKOTBSB), roadtripping, and complaining that she truly belongs in the 1950’s, the 1920′s, or the 1980′s depending on her mood. She definitely owns more books than she should and reads every chance she gets. If you stop hearing from her, it’s because the book piles have fallen over and smothered her to death in the night. You can contact her at bri@theyoungfolks.com. Twitter: @bri_lockhart