The 12/18 Sunday edition of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle had an interview with Francesca Lia Block, creator of perhaps the hippest chick to ever hit young adult literature — Weetzie Bat. I confess I’d sort of forgotten about Weetzie, until I turned to the Books page in the paper and saw Block sitting there, a dark haired waif all in white, commanding the whole top half of the page. Block is back and is dragging Weetzie with her, although Weetzie is now a grown up 40 year old with two daughters and is about to break up for good with her Secret Agent Lover Man, Max. I’m off to the bookstore tomorrow to find this book. I have to know what’s happened to Weetzie, Max, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys and all the other colorful characters from Block’s surreal world. In the meantime, I thought I’d resurrect a couple old review I wrote of two of Block’s later books…
I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block
For some reason, Jim Morrison’s L.A. Woman kept going through my head as I read this one. Maybe it’s because Block describes Los Angeles as a “woman reclining billboard model.” Who knows….Anyway, Teenage Fairy is different. Different from the magical unreality of Weetzie Bat and different from the dark fantasy of Hanged Man. But different in a good way. Barbie Markowitz, named for the ubiquitous doll, has little magic in her life until the arrival of Mab, a true, real fairy of the fluttery-gossamer-winged variety, but with a definite edge. Mab has sharp little teeth and a healthy sex drive—certainly not the kind of fairy envisioned by Andrew Lang or even Walt Disney. Mab helps Barbie cope with her crocodile stage mother who pushes her into modeling to make up for her own failed career. The Crocodile puts Barbie into the hands of a slimy photographer who specializes in traumatizing his young subjects. Fast forward a few years (after all, what’s time in a Block novel?!) Where we find Barbie a discontented, frightened, young woman. Mab has stuck with her through the years and pushes Barbie to break with her past and get control of her future. How she does that involves New York, a beautiful boy named Griffin, a delectable biscuit boy named Todd, and a lovely little camera.
Block has refined the wild, funky prose she patented in Weetzie Bat and has added some toned darkness to the magic of life in Southern California. Fans of the earlier Block books might find this one a little bitter to the taste, but it cuts the sweetness of Weetzie nicely.
Girl Goddess #9 by Francesca Lia Block
How can anyone resist a book that has characters named Tweetie Sweet Pea, Pixie, and Pony? I couldn’t and I’m glad because Girl Goddess #9 is a not a book to be missed. I have to confess, though, that I am a devoted fan of Block’s work. I am one of those people who thought Weetzie Bat was the best thing I’d read since The Changeling (Snyder) or The Pinballs (Byars). (Aside to Ellin…I know you’re gagging right now!) So, I would have read Girl Goddess no matter what she named the characters. I was skeptical when I started Goddess because I was disappointed in Block’s most recent addition to the Weetzie saga – Baby Be Bop. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I opened Goddess and found Block had put together a collection of short stories instead of her usual stream-of-coolness story. Don’t worry…the usual Southern California hipness is still there along with the edgy characters and surreal situations. Block opens the book with Tweetie Sweet Pea’s story which is a little bit of a departure for her. Tweety Sweet Pea appears to be about three or four years old, and the story revolves around her awakening consciousness that she has to grow up. Block writes about how Tweety perceives her world changing and juxtaposes the child’s world view with that of her off-beat parents who find their safe, comfy world disrupted by the suicide of a favorite rock singer. The stories continue in this vein…change and growth seem to be the overwhelming themes in these stories, and Block generally does a good job communicating teen angst. However, some of the stories end abruptly and seem unfinished, like Block is keeping the characters in mind for a full-length book. Despite this one weakness, Girl Goddess #9 is an intriguing book that reads fast. You might be left wanting more, but I’m sure Block will oblige with another story soon.