Strap in for a snark-filled deep-dive, bibliofriends, because I took another stroll down Nostalgia Lane recently. Francesca Lia Block was an author that High School Millie loved. She’s one my friend’s favorite authors (maybe her most favorite?) and I was curious to see what Current Millie thought of her work. I picked up two quick reads one weekend and if you’re looking for a TL;DR, here it is:
I basically hated them.
I know I’m not the biggest fan of YA and that I sometimes have bad luck with nostalgic re-reads. But I have a handful of Block’s books on my shelf from a past Book Outlet haul and I wondered if she’d stand the test of time. So far the two books I picked failed that test. This should be obvious, but, spoilers ahead!
weetzie bat by Francesca Lia Block
My Edition: Paperback – 109 pages – 1989 – Charlotte Zolotow Books – ISBN: 9780060736255
Weetzie Bat? More like Weetzie Bad.
Whew. Had to get that dad joke out of the way. And no, I’m not sorry.
I can’t even blurb this book because I feel like the entire book is actually just a detailed outline for a book which hasn’t been written yet: There’s a teen girl (Weetzie Bat), she falls in love with a guy (Secret Agent Lover Man or some shit), wants his baby, but he doesn’t want a baby, so she sleeps with her two gay friends (Dirk and Duck) to have a baby (Cherokee) anyway. The guy gets mad and leaves, but then comes back and loves the baby. Then some lady (Vixanne) the guy was sleeping with while he was a way has his baby (Witch Baby). She leaves it on the doorstep and the family decides to take it in and they all live happily ever after with their strange names.
There really isn’t much more to the plot than that and there’s zero character development. Every character felt like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even the babies! The writing was poetic and nonsensical – not something I typically go in for. There are some very outdated racial insensitivities throughout, which if you like the book, I’m sure can be thrown under the “problematic fave” umbrella. I’ve got nothing against problematic faves, but this book was in no way my fave.
The book also seems to glamorize parenthood for the sheer sake of parenthood, though maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it. But Weetzie wants a baby real bad and her lover doesn’t want one. So she decides to go behind his back and sleep with their two gay roommates (who are also her best friends) while she continues to sleep with him, so no one will know who the father is. I’m sorry, but I think that’s pretty fucked up. Loverboy gets understandably upset and takes off – of course, while he’s away he sleeps with some other chick and knocks her up, so I’m not saying he’s a saint. It doesn’t seem to matter much because they just adopt that baby after the lady leaves it on their doorstep and everything works out fine. I think it’s all a bit (ok, utterly) ridiculous. I couldn’t tell if Weetzie was 18 or 25 based on the way she handled her life choices.
Her father also commits suicide. She does spend some time grieving, but it was a pretty low-impact character death. We don’t get to know much about Dad Bat (or any character, really) so it was hard to mourn his loss. I wasn’t really concerned for Weetzie’s emotions either, because she felt more like a walking, talking piece of glitter than a human.
I just don’t know what I was supposed to feel throughout all this. Is it a ‘slice of life’ type story? Is it supposed to seriously address depression, suicide, family dynamics and relationships, and I just didn’t get any of that? Am I supposed to like Weetzie? I think she’s a bit of a crackpot, tbh. Maybe it’s supposed to be a novella about found families and being true to yourself (even if it means sleeping with people other than your partner in an attempt to get the baby you so desperately want.) Whatever it was, it wasn’t for me.
Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block
My Edition: Paperback – 195 pages – 2009 – Harper Teen – ISBN: 9780061547874
Charlotte Emerson is a sexy vampire whose centuries old but loves living life as a high schooler. When she meets Jared and Emily, she yearns to be a human teen more than ever. The couple is drawn to her, since she’s totally sexy and rich. But when tragedy strikes, Charlotte finds herself feeling more human (and teenaged and sexy) than she thought possible.
Lest we forget, we are told relentlessly how sexy, tall, slim, pale, blonde, big-breasted and fashionable Charlotte is. She literally spends pages 9 and 10 describing herself in this typical-teen-girl way (despite being 100+ years old) and then continues to remind readers throughout the story. Other characters point all this out too. Charlotte makes a point of woe-ing about how lonely she is – well, girlfriend, maybe that’s because you insist on giving a full physical description of yourself to everyone you meet!
Good thing Charlotte is so sexy and rich though, because she’s boring af. I am typically sympathetic to “friendly” vampires – it’s understandable they’re lonely when they live for centuries and continue to watch all their friends and lovers die. I get why they’re depressed and moody. Charlotte on the other hand, didn’t feel lonely or depressed so much as boring. She didn’t feel worldly and educated and full of ennui. She was just so boring. I WAS SO BORED.
And even though she’s a bajillion years old, she prefers to live as a teenager and goes to high school. I never understood this about the Cullens either. High school is awful, even if you’re rich (well, I assume anyway, not being rich myself) – why would you want to keep repeating it? I chalked it up to Charlotte’s lack of imagination that she couldn’t think of anything else to do with her infinite time and money. Despite this, when she gets her first zit she doesn’t really know what it is, even though she’d have seen them peppering the faces of other teens for, like, millennia. Just because you have perfect skin doesn’t mean you don’t know what a zit is!
The actual plot.
Ok, I’ll expand on that last one (because let’s face it, I enjoy picking apart books I hated.)
Charlotte has run away from her maker, William, because he’s a dink. She’s living her life as a rich, parentless teen, and happens to become friends with safe, bland, stale, plain Emily. Emily divulges to Charlotte that she was raped by her mother’s ex-boyfriend, something she’s only admitted to Charlotte and her boyfriend, Jared. Charlotte becomes obsessed with Emily’s normalness and Jared is also obsessed with Charlotte because she’s fucking hot, even though he supposedly loves Emily more than anything else in life.
Emily ends up killing herself and Charlotte and Jared do the natural thing – start having sex with each other. Oh, also, Jared sleeps naked with Emily’s bra. That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but I found it a rather disturbing way of grieving. Anyway! Jared knows Charlotte is a vampire because Emily told him some things and, really, who cares because he’s right. He wants Charlotte to turn him because he can’t live without Emily…so…living forever as a bloodsucking fiend is his only option, I guess.
Also I know vampires are like a million times older than the humans they fall in love with in all these books, but I’m pretty sure Jared is like 17. Gross. But he can like, see into Charlotte’s soul and he makes her feel stuff and things, so it’s supposed to be romantic and sexy.
In the end, it turns out Emily has been made into a vampire by creepy William, who was stalking her and Charlotte. It also turns out that Charlotte basically mesmerized Emily into killing herself because she was jealous of her “normal” life (because, you know, being raped and hating yourself is totally normal) and her love with Jared. Somehow, in turning Emily into a vampire, William also turned Charlotte back into a human. This could potentially be an interesting point, but the feat is never explained, so you’re SOL if you’re curious. Emily understandably hates Charlotte, so her and creepy William seduce Jared into leaving Charlotte. Years later Jared shows up at Charlotte’s door, still human and still in love with her and they live happily ever after.
Yet again, no likable characters, and no real plot, just a vamp parading as a teen and screwing one until her ex shows up to turn her human. Maybe that sounds like a plot, but nothing really happens outside the sex and constant descriptions of Charlotte’s high-priced wardrobe and sexy bod and there is no sense of character development. At least in Twilight, Bella was throwing herself off cliffs, riding motorcycles, and running with wolves and shit.
Sadly neither of these was a hit for me, or even decent. But they were quick, so they have that going for them. I have a few more Blocks on my shelves and I plan to give those a go in hopes that I can find something of what I used to love as a teen.