Friday, May 18, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Francesca Lia Block

Those of you who follow Hooked Bookworm know how much I adore and respect Francesca Lia Block.  I read Weetzie Bat in high school (and about 10 more times since then) and was immediately enchanted by the colorful characters, the magical setting, and the sparkling, unforgettable story.  Block primarily writes YA fiction, but thematically, her books are timeless - she has a gift for revealing universal truths through unique, one-of-a-kind characters.  With dozens of publications under her belt, I have not been able to read everything by Ms. Block (yet!), but here are a few favorites:

The Dangerous Angels Series
Ok so this might be cheating a little, since technically, this collection contains the first 5 Weetzie Bat books, but they are all so wonderful, and since they're all part of the Weetzie story, they should be read together and in order:  Weetzie Bat, Witch Baby, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, Missing Angel Juan, and Baby Be-Bop.  In 2005, Block published Necklace of Kisses, a sequel to the series which includes depictions of Weetzie as a middle-aged woman still exploring aspects of love, motherhood, and relationships.  And earlier this year a prequel to the series, Pink Smog, was published.  This collection will always be very dear to me - with aspects of magic, love, fantasy, fairy tales, and stark realism, there is just no one else in the world who writes like Francesca Lia Block.  Check out the full review of Pink Smog here, and the full review of Weetzie Bat here.

Girl Goddess #9
This amazing collection includes 9 short stories about powerful, perceptive, and intuitive young girls and women with very unique circumstances.  In one story, a teenage girl with two mothers begins to wonder about the identity of her father, and another introduces us to a girl who is struggling to cope with her mother's suicide.  As these girls explore aspects of love, sexuality, identity, and truth, they encounter magic and wonder similar to the nature of Weetzie's world.  Girl Goddess #9 is thematically heavier than Weetzie Bat, but I remember reading these stories when I was 15 and feeling very connected to these young women, despite our differences in circumstances and upbringing.  These girls were listening to some of my favorite musicians such as Tori Amos and PJ me, they felt real and familiar, which is very important to young readers.

One of Block's adult books, Nymph is a collection of erotic short stories.  Some of the stories more closely resemble love/romance stories, but there is just enough erotica to appeal to both audiences.  And much like her previous publications Nymph also includes elements of magic and whimsy laced with a few darker elements.  My favorite story from this collection is entitled Mer, in which a young man strikes up a very passionate relationship with a woman in a wheelchair who just might be a mermaid.  One of the things I love most about Francesca Lia Block is the way she writes about love non-exclusively.  Love and sex do not discriminate based on age, race, gender, or beliefs - and this is one reason why Nymph has appealed to so many different audiences over the years.

The Rose and The Beast
I know I already mentioned this book in my Modern Fairy Tales post, but it's just so good it deserves a second spot in Favorite Fiction.  The Rose and The Beast includes Block's modern interpretations of well-known fairy tales, such as Snow White and Cinderella.  The women in these stories are not your average, passive princesses, either.  Be prepared for rock stars, sex queens, and a few unearthly beings.  Some of these stories are intense (don't expect them to resemble Disney's interpretations in the least), but that is the true nature of fairy tales - to offer explanations for the strange, the feared, or the unknown.  Most original fairy tales are peppered with violence, sadism, and horror (Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood), but perhaps Block's seem more penetrating because she takes magical, eternal characters and replants them in our own familiar, yet slightly askew world.

The Hanged Man
Francesca Lia Block loves her home city of Los Angeles, but she is aware of its dark, destructive potential as well, and The Hanged Man is a perfect illustration of these tendencies.  The novel tells the story of Laurel, a 17 year-old girl living in Hollywood whose father has just died, leaving her confused and grief-stricken, yet strangely relieved.  Her mother is distracted and nervous all the time, so Laurel is left to care for herself.  Touching on subjects such as addiction, sex, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, and abuse, The Hanged Man is heavy - maybe even a little too heavy for some teen audiences, but it is a powerful portrayal of a young woman who is forced to deal with some very adult issues.

I could go on forever about Francesca Lia Block, and if you follow Hooked Bookworm regularly, then you may suspect that this won't be the last post about Ms. Block's work....and you would be correct!  If you've never read any of her books, I would recommend starting with Weetzie Bat.  It is strange, magical, and wonderful and has endured in the literary world since it's publication nearly 25 years ago.