Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

This could be a book about cheap cheese and bean burritos, slinkster dogs, lanky lizards and rubber chickens ... Or strawberry sundaes with marshmallow toppings, surfing, stage-diving and sleeping on the beach ... It could even be a book about magic. But what it's definitely about is Weetzie Bat, her best friend Dirk and their search across L.A. for the most dangerous angel of all ... true love.
Amazon description

A number of people had recommended this book to me, so I thought I really ought to read and review it. Francesca Lia Block, it seems, has many fans. But this 56-year old British woman hadn't heard of her or of her character Weetzie Bat. I think the clue to my ignorance is to be found in the words "56-year" and "British". This American young adult novel was published in 1989.  The book hasn't really taken off in the UK as it has in the States - 12 reviews on Amazon UK compared to 139 on Looking at those reviews it is obvious that Weetzie Bat divides readers into lovers or haters.  I found myself not falling into either camp.

The book's central character, a hip LA girl (of undefined age), bunks off school with the coolest guy around Dirk.  When Dirk's grandmother Fifi leaves Weetzie Bat a golden thing, Weetzie rubs it and the magic begins:

Weetzie could see him--it was a man, a little man in a turban, with a jewel in his nose, harem pants, and curly-toed slippers.
"Lanky Lizards!" Weetzie exclaimed.
"Greetings," said the man in an odd voice, a rich, dark purr.
"Oh, shit!" Weetzie said.
"I beg your pardon? Is that your wish?” 

Yes, it's a genie. And he grants her three wishes mostly

There is a lot of the fairytale about the book. Thanks to the genie, Weetzie Bat and her unconventional family of Dirk, Dirk's boyfriend Duck, My Secret Lover Man Weetzie's boyfriend, her pet Slinkster Dog and his girlfriend Go-Go Girl, all live in a house they were left by Fifi happily ever after. 

But the second half of the story questions what "happily ever after" actually means. Into Weetzie's pink, hippy, glittery world comes death and the threat of it. The death is that of Weetzie's father and the threat is in the form of AIDs.  I applaud the author's decision to include such issues in a YA book. They aren't confronted in a way that shocks. Nor is there a link made between irresponsible sexual behaviour and its consequences. When My Secret Lover Man says he doesn't want a baby, Weetzie decides to have a child with Duck and Dirk. She gets away with it and the baby joins the extended family. I don't know what to make of this. I suppose it's fairytale meeting reality. Isn't that a definition of magic realism? What is happily ever after in magic realism?

Maybe I am just too old. Maybe I am applying adult expectations to a YA book.  I am sure there are many girls who identify with the kooky Weetzie. I never was that girl. I was too bookish. My Britishness probably puts up a load of barriers too - a lot of the references and even words pass me by. And yet the imagery is at times wonderfully poetic. Take this about Charlie's death:
Charlie was dreaming of a giant poppy like a bed. He had taken some pills and this time he did not wake up from his dream.

I am sure (indeed I know from the reviews) that this book has had a huge impact on some of its young readers.  In the end I guess I am the wrong person to review it. 

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