Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books (by Francesca Lia Block)

2 06 2012

Dangerous Angels is a collection of 5 of the Weetzie Bat Books:  Weetzie Bat (1989), Witch Baby (1991), Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys (1992), Missing Angel Juan (1993) and Baby Be-Bop (1995). With this series of books Francesca Lia Block established herself as one of the most unique voices in the (relatively) short history that is YA literature. In the Weetzie Bat Books Francesca Lia Block sketches the urban landscape that is Shangri-LA, in a way that is both age-defining and timeless. Her stories are indeed urban fairy tales interweaving the complexities that made up the realities of 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles. What permeates the entire collection, though is love, the most dangerous angel of them all.

In the first novella we meet Weetzie Bat, a colorful different type of girl. At school she befriends Dirk, who – though he’s adored by all the girls at their school – does not show any interest in them because he is gay, something Weetzie likes because they can find boyfriends – Ducks – together now. Weetzie calls her ideal boyfriend Secret Agent Lover Man and when Weetzie gets a lamp from Dirk’s grandmother Fifi, it turns out there’s a genie in the lamp, Lanky Lizards, who grants her three wishes.  Because World peace is out of the genie’s league, she finally wishes “a Duck for Dirk, My Secret Agent Lover Man for me, and a beautiful little house for all of us where we can live happily ever after.” In true fairy tale style, her wishes are granted. The second novella Witch Baby, is about Witch Baby, the daughter of My Secret Agent Lover Man. She is also different from the rest, even within her own family. She doesn’t get on with her almost-sister Cherokee Bat, and she can drum very well. In the artistic Bat family, it’s also the music that sets Witch Baby truly free, that and her longing for her own angel, who comes to her in the form of Angel Juan, a Mexican boy. In Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, the Goat Guys are Raphael ( Cherokee’s longtime boyfriend) and Angel Juan. Cherokee gives Witch Baby magical wings, which make her almost fly away when she’s drumming.  This part of the series has the most transcendental elements, as it also incorporates a lot of Native American elements. In Missing Angel Juan, Angel Juan has left Witch Baby and Witch Baby goes to New York to stay in the apartment of the deceased Charlie Bat who is now a ghost who helps her understand there’s life without Angel Juan. Angel Juan, though, returns to Witch Baby when he’s realized that love – though it might be a dangerous angel – is not something to be afraid of. In the last novella of the collection, Baby Be-Bop, we learn more about Dirk and how he came to be who he is when he met Weetzie.

Francesca Lia Block’s Dangerous Angels evokes an urban landscape where openness and infinite acceptance are key, and with topics like a.o. (homo)sexuality, AIDS and fluid families, it will have (and has had) undoubtedly as many fans routing for Weetzie, Dirk and the rest of the family as it has opponents condemning the pluralism of Block’s vision.  Weetzie and her elaborate family not only practice that openness, but Block’s prose itself contributes to it: it is lyrical yes, but mostly it is sensory. Once you start reading her writing, you can get caught up in it and you feel, smell, breathe Los Angeles and the Weetzie Bat family. Yet again, this is not always the easiest and safest route, but once you’ve opened up yourself, you’ll be enchanted by it as much as I was.

There are very few authors who have such a distinctive voice, but Francesca Lia Block has one. Even 20 years after the first publication of Weetzie Bat, the novellas have lost nothing of their power: evocative, creative, magical,… they still stand out from the crowd of mediocre YA supernatural romance novels.

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