Reading Response: “Weetzie Bat” and “Witch Baby” by Francesca Lia Block

First of all, these books were never on the Konservativ reading list as a teenager.  They were not at all what I liked then, and even now I don’t think that I would have read them if I hadn’t been introduced to them in class.  However, I did enjoy them somewhat and agree with reviews that refer to them as “urban fairy tales.”  I like fairy tales, and I think that these stories have morals behind them that are good.  That said, I must declare that I have some disagreement with the lifestyles presented in this book and I don’t know how comfortable I would be with recommending these books to teenagers.

While these books are not long themselves, I am going to summarize them both as briefly as possible:

Weetzie Bat is the first book in the series.  In it, a young girl called Weetzie (I’m guessing that she is in her late teens/early twenties in the book) lives in a fantastical version of Los Angeles.  She is idealistic and tries to keep a loving and happy outlook on life.  SPOILER ALERT [She ends up a moderately-successful film star living with her boyfriend (My Secret Agent Lover Man), her two gay male friends (Dirk and Duck), her daughter Cherokee (whose dad might be any of the above), and her stepdaughter Witch Baby.  They have several adventures throughout the novel.]

Witch Baby is the second book in the series.  In this book, Witch Baby is now in her early teens (I’m guessing) and is trying to find out where she fits in with her family.  She has a rivalry with her stepsister Cherokee and is cynical where her stepmother Weetzie is idealistic.  This book explores more dark themes, as does the first book, but takes a less whimsical approach.  This is consistent with how the main characters view the world.  Witch Baby is also mystical and the supernatural takes a large role in this novel.

What both of these books do well is paint a beautiful picture of this fantastical world.  It is  an old Hollywood representation of Los Angeles and the American Southwest, but I found it fascinating.  Francesca Lia Block’s style is somewhat hard to read, but it is fun and the novels are short enough that one can reread passages to clarify them.  Some things in these novels are probably darker than described, while other things may be more innocent than the innuendo might lead the reader to believe.  I had a hard time following the stories fully and I think that for those who enjoy them, they might make for a fun novel to re-read over again like a favourite movie.

My objections to the novels are probably the standard controversial ones: the laissez-faire treatment of homosexuality, drugs, sex, abuse, witchcraft, etc.  I know that they are a part of life.  However, I don’t think steering young people in this direction is necessarily a good thing.  I think this books must be taken with a grain of salt: the overall themes of both books are love and acceptance — both of which I strongly support.  The depiction of what are sometimes termed “alternative families” is something to be promoted in literature, but I think that they are not to be too heavily emphasized because that only serves to promote them as possibly freakish, rather than normal.  If I met a young girl at my library who told me that she lived with her father, stepmother, stepsister, and two men who were also her stepsister’s possible dads, I would hope that she would be accepted and that she would find literature that she could relate to, but I would not want to pigeon-hole her as a troubled teen or as a girl who would be obviously interested in reading Witch Baby.  I think that since the late 1980s/early 1990s, when these books were published, we have come a long way in accepting families who do not fit into the standard nuclear family model as “normal.”  They are certainly not something confined to the fantastical anymore!

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