Monday, July 30, 2012

WEETZIE BAT by Francesca Lia Block

Block, Francesca Lia. Weetzie Bat. HarperCollins, 1989. 109 pages. Tr. $14.21, ISBN: 978-1-41554-548-5

Plot: Weetzie Bat is an L.A. girl living with her mother, a gorgeous but brassy former B-movie starlet. A girl with a strong sense of fashion (including Native American headdresses), she meets a boy named Dirk at school. The two hit it off, going to punk clubs and inhaling Hollywood, only Dirk likes boys. The two spend time with Dirk’s grandmother, Fifi, who gives Weetzie a lamp. When a genie pops out, he grants her some wishes, which results in the creation of both her and Dirk’s fantasy partners, My Secret Agent Lover Man (for Weetzie) and Duck (for Dirk).  Fifi dies, and the four move into her house, creating a happy alternative family.
            Secret Agent Man, like Weetzie’s father, makes movies. They shoot films and have fun until Weetzie wants a baby. When My Secret Agent Lover Man balks, Weetzie finds a way to get pregnant without him. Furious, he leaves. Dirk and Duck take care of Weetzie until he returns, after having a dangerous dalliance with a witch. Creating an unusual alternate-reality family in Hollywood, the four confront more dark forces – Weetzie’s dad’s drug abuse, AIDS, and the witch’s return – that threaten to destroy the happiness of the little family, which grows as time goes on.

Critical Evaluation: This is a genre-defying book, part dream, part Hollywood fantasy, part heightened love letter to Los Angeles. The main character, Weetzie, is a beautiful sprite, a child’s dream of what being a 19 year old in Hollywood might be like. Dirk is a teen dream – he’s like an airbrushed Elvis or James Dean. Their companions are, in the world of the book, literally dreams, perfect partners conjured out of their own hearts and minds.
            The two find perfection until Weetzie’s desires, her father’s disillusionment, and the real-world plague of the time rear their heads.
            The way that the author uses fantasy in the book to capture a picture-perfect, if unconventional family, is a real departure. It is original to the core, from the way Weetzie follows her heart to the way the four of them experience their city. Light and dark, cotton candy and punk rock alleys, the book captures the sunshine and noir of the city – dipping into the noir and choosing to bask in the sun instead. It is a YA book that only a young writer could have conjured.

Reader’s Annotation: When Weetzie Bat, a feathered-headdress wearing punk sprite, meets Dirk, she has a sense that anything is possible, and she might be right.

Author bio: A devoted denizen of Los Angeles, which has factored hugely in her novels, Francesca Lia Block wrote Weetzie Bat while a student a UC Berkeley during the only time she has left the city. The book became a phenomenon, and Block continued, writing screenplays, plays, and more YA novels.
            She has seen her share of controversy; Weetzie Bat, with its alternative lifestyles and embrace of Hollywood’s seedier corners, and Baby Be Bop in particular was met with the threat of a public book burning. The city and her artistic parents have helped create Block’s boundary-breaking style.

Genre: Fantasy mixed with reality.

Curriculum Ties: English

Booktalking Ideas:
Describe the characters and their desire to find love.
Talk about the Los Angeles/Hollywood focus – LA as a place of dreams and noir.
Have kids dress up and act out the scene of Weetzie meeting Dirk.

Reading Level: 5
Interest Age: 14+

Challenge Issues: Homosexuality, surrogate families, alternative lifestyles, sexuality.
Challenge Response: 
The alternative lifestyles in the book have provoked challenges, and anyone defending the book against a challenge should do research and be very familiar with the discussion and rebuttals to challenges.
Be extremely familiar with both the content and subject matter of the book but also with its tone, how the characters and situations are presented.
ALA Notable Children’s Books, 1995
Margaret A. Edwards Award 2005

Why Included: Considered a groundbreaking YA book.

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