|tags:||Young Adult & Children's Literature|
BY NOW, AN ENTIRE GENERATION of girls (and some boys!) who fell in love with the story of an arty, punkish, pixie, DIY teen misfit named Weetzie Bat and her circle of L.A. friends has grown up and placed these postmodern fairy tales into the hands of their own children.
Written by Los Angeles native Francesca Lia Block to nourish her homesick soul while away at college, the Weetzie stories deal with love and loss, darkness and light, temptation and forgiveness. There is palpable danger and cruelty in Weetzie's world (bullying, addiction, anorexia, gay-bashing, disappearing fathers, dying mothers), but there is also great beauty and magic. Not fairy-dust magic, though there is some of that, but the everyday L.A. magic: rock 'n' roll and Hollywood diners, hidden Laurel Canyon gardens, and sun-bleached surfer boys sleeping on sugar-sand beaches.
Mostly there is love, conventional and otherwise, which trumps all.
Block created Weetzie in the late 1980s and has gone on to write dozens of other books, all of which have been received warmly by critics and ardently by fans. Though Block has written widely (poetry, erotica, and even a mythological dating guide), the themes she explores in the Weetzie saga continue to inspire her dark, incantatory coming-of-age stories.
Having read most of her books, I was both excited and a little apprehensive when I heard that Block, almost a quarter-century after Weetzie first appeared, was writing a prequel called Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie Bat. Sure, I was greedy with book lust to learn Weetzie's backstory. But I was also scared. Did Block still have the magic inside her to write another Weetzie book? Could it ever compare with the perfection of the original? Not only that, but there is a huge gulf between the life of a preteen and an older teenager. Could the travails of Weetzie the tweener be as compelling, as romantic, as full of yearning, as those of her older adolescent self?
I'm happy to say that the answer is a resounding Yes!
Pink Smog ushers us into Weetzie's earlier life with the confident aplomb that characterizes all of Block's writing. We see the beginnings of boy-crushes, the excruciating agony of being a smart, creative, adolescent outsider, the heartbreak over her parents' breakup, and nostalgic longing for the enchanted Hollywood cottage where her little family should have lived happily ever after (before finances forced them down the hill into a San Fernando Valley condominium complex).
While the language may be jeweled and gorgeous, Block doesn't gloss over the harshness of seventh-grade Weetzie's life. Her one-time actress mother Brandi-Lynne drinks herself to sleep in front of the TV every night and cries, "Why didn't you let me go?" when she's saved from drowning after falling drunkenly into the pool one night. Her beloved father, Charlie Bat, a director of science fiction and horror movies, can't find work anymore, abuses substances, and has gone AWOL as Pink Smog opens.
School is no haven either. While Weetzie is relieved to find two friends, dangerously anorexic Lily and gay Bobby...read more