YA Book Club: Francesca Lia Block’s ‘Weetzie Bat’
Weetzie Bat is near and dear to my heart—when I was 12, I was awkward, angry at the world, and ready for my real life to start as I’m sure a lot of 12 year olds were like then, and probably are still like now. I discovered Francesca Lia Block because in 1996 I spent a lot of time in a long-defunct website chatroom called WBS Pre-teen Chat, and cobbled together an online circle of super rad girls, spread out across the country, who were slightly older, and really, really into Block’s books. A few of them went so far as to make their chat room handles characters from Block’s books, and I knew I had to get my hands on them.
Reading Weetzie Bat for the first time gave me a visceral, physical reaction—as I read it, I felt a hole in my heart that I didn’t know I had finally being mended. Weetzie Bat physically moved me in a way no book ever has since and I ached to live in Weetzie’s magical, lush rendering of Los Angeles, with the loving support network she created. Weetzie Bat was the dream, and it’s one that was imprinted on me at an early age. I still have my contemporary copy I bought when I was 14, because I got sick of checking it out from the library, my name written on the inside flap in my teenaged hand writing, complete with ephemera from the era tucked into the pages (a ticket to the San Francisco Giants vs Texas Rangers game from June 26, 1998 when I was vising SF; my return plane ticket to Alaska from SF; and a Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic.)
I read (and re-read) Weetzie Bat at least a dozen times before I became an adult, but I’m not sure I’ve picked it up in the intervening years since then. So I was slightly scared that my beloved Weetzie would be all fluff and no filler when I read it through my adult eyes for this week’s post. My fears, save for a few out-dated, culturally insensitive references, were unfounded.
Weetzie Bat begins with our titular heroine in high school, loathing every minute of it—that is, until she meets her BFF for life, Dirk. Dirk is a rad punk boy who takes her all over town in his vintage red car. They slam dance, go to Jayne Mansfield movies, and generally have a blast. Now, you may be thinking that Dirk is a love match for Weetize, but you’d be wrong. Dirk comes out to her within the first page or two of the book, and they’re fast friends from that point onward.
Dirk lives with his grandma, Fifi, in a tucked away cottage in Hollywood—one day, Fifi hands Weetzie a lamp and sends her on her way. Weetzie discovers that this is a magic lamp with a genie inside, who will grant her three wishes, which are: a “Duck” for Dirk (Block creates a whole new vocabulary here, with “duck” being what Weetzie and Dirk call boys they find cute), “My Secret Agent Lover Man” for Weetzie, and a cottage for the entire crew to live in.
All three wishes are granted, literally, in rapid succession (although Fifi has to die to leave her cottage to the two of them in the process) so Dirk, Duck, Weetzie, and My Secret Agent Lover Man (seriously, that is his name, but we’re going to abbreviate that going forward to MSALM) live happily in the cottage in Hollywood, making trippy movies, and generally living a punk rock fabulous life, until one day Weetzie decides she wants to have a baby.
MSALM is dead set against it, so Weetzie, Duck, and Dirk decide to get a little tipsy, have a threesome, and get her pregnant anyway because why not?
They do the thing, Weetzie gets pregnant, and MSALM moves out because he’s surprisingly not cool with his girlfriend having sex with her two best friends in order to have a child that MSALM doesn’t want. Go figure.
Weetzie has a daughter that she names Cherokee (which…yeah, not a great look for a white lady to name her daughter that. The book came out in 1989, not an excuse, but an explanation…) and MSALM comes back eventually and accepts Cherokee as his child (all three men vow to raise her as their own) and gets ready to settle back into life when, twist! MSALM finds out he’s the father to a literal witch woman’s child, who leaves their daughter on the doorstep one day. It’s cool, because Weetzie likes kids, so they decide to take the witch baby into their family and they name her Witch Baby (although Weetzie tries to name her Lily, but it doesn’t stick.)
You’d think that would be the end, but it’s not. Duck’s friend gets diagnosed with HIV, so he understandably freaks out, and leaves without telling anyone. Dirk, distraught, sets out to find him, ultimately driving to San Francisco, and spotting Duck at a club. They reunite, and come home to Weetzie and crew, and that’s how the book ends.
Reading this as an adult, a few things stuck out to me. Block’s prose is as magical and unique as I remember, but her characterizations of her non-white characters wasn’t super great. Everyone who wasn’t white had their skin tone dreamily described, and yeah, our girl Weetzie has a thing for wearing Native American headdresses. Yikes. On the other hand, I think we take for granted, in 2019 how progressive our cultural narrative can be (Fox News aside) and it’s pretty forward thinking to have a loving, openly gay couple as protagonists in a book aimed at teenagers, in 1989. Furthermore, to have HIV (even though it’s not explicitly mentioned) as a plot point seems daring for the time, too. Of course this was lost on my 12-year old self, but the way Dirk and Duck are presented as nothing out of the ordinary, and their love story is what the book ends on seems pretty revolutionary.
So does the Weetzie Bat hold up? Oh my god, yes. It’s a short, capturing book that lives in a world unto itself, and is probably a huge part of why I’ve ended up in Los Angeles for my 30’s.
Share your own experiences with Weetzie in the comments, and I’d love to hear how you discovered Block’s writing yourself!
Next week we’ll be doing the quintessential pre-teen (sensation) book: Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. Until then!
Header Image Source: Harper Collins Publishers
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