"THE REASON WEETZIE BAT HATED HIGH SCHOOL," writes Francesca Lia Block in the opening line of Weetzie Bat, her strange and breathtaking 1989 Young Adult novel, "is because no one understood."
In 1997, the reason I hated high school was because everybody understood too well. High school was a holding cell that separated us from the Real World, a Kafkaesque reality in which success, I was promised, was a result of filling out forms and remembering to bring your I.D. badge to your place of employment. The future was both terrifying and daunting: If I couldn't even put together a decent physics packet, how was I going to survive? But one day, this girl in my math class, a skater-goth who was really into Tori Amos and The Sandman, mentioned a book called Weetzie Bat. "It's about this girl who gets a genie and wishes for a boyfriend named My Secret Agent Lover Man, but My Secret Agent Lover Man doesn't want a baby so Weetzie has a threesome with her gay friend Dirk and his boyfriend Duck and gets pregnant but no one knows who the dad is. I think you'd like it."
Though I considered myself a literate kid, I didn't really read that much. The few Young Adult books I had encountered were either cautionary tales in the vein of Go Ask Alice or depressing stories about teenagers who had been abandoned by their mothers. This Weetzie Bat sounded silly and insane and a little scary.
I decided to check it out.
The book is short — skinny enough to fit in your pocket, especially if it's 1997 and you're wearing J*NCO jeans with 33-inch leg circumference — and I finished it in one afternoon. Forty-five pages in, my mind was entirely blown. I had no idea books like this existed. Weetzie Bat didn't feel like it had been written for kids. It felt like it had been written for me.
Weetzie Bat's plot is both slight and convoluted, and skims along as breathlessly as my classmate's off-the-cuff summary. After Weetzie gives birth to her daughter Cherokee (a "girl love-warrior who would grow up to wear feathers and run swift and silent through the L.A. Canyons"), an angry My Secret Agent Lover Man runs off and has an affair with Vixanne Wigg, a Jayne Mansfield fanatic who turns out to be a witch. The romance is short-lived and My Secret Agent Lover Man returns, but not before unknowingly impregnating Vixanne, who leaves the baby on the doorstep of the home now shared by Weetzie, Dirk, Duck, Cherokee and My Secret Agent. They name the child Witch Baby and decide to raise her together. Dirk and Duck break up temporarily after an AIDS scare ("'It's so sick,' Duck said. 'I nicked myself shaving that last night at home, and I saw my own blood and I thought, How can I live in a world where this exists - where love can become death?'"), but eventually that's resolved too and they all live happily for a while. The book is followed by several sequels, most of which shift the focus from Weetzie to her family, and are now collected in an omnibus called Dangerous Angels.
Block paints Los Angeles in late-eighties' Rococo: Patrick Nagel doing the Go-Gos in dayglo. In Weetzie Bat, Los Angeles is a city in which "everyone was always young and lit up like a movie, palm trees turned into tropical birds, Marilyn-blonde angels flew through the spotlight rays, the cars were the color of candied mints and filled with lovers making love as they drove down the streets pa...read more