Review + Rememberance: What Weetzie Bat means to me

All the Weetzies: Bottom left Weetzie cover is the REAL cover as far as I'm concerned

All the Weetzies: Bottom left Weetzie cover is the REAL cover as far as I’m concerned

So I just read Francesca Lia Block’s 2012 prequel to her Weetzie Bat series called Pink Smog. I’ll get to Pink Smog later, but first I want to indulge in some nostalgia and talk about what the original 1989 Weetzie Bat means to me.

I was twelve, an 8th grader, living in a Massachusetts suburban/rural town where playing sports was everything and almost everyone was white and the fashion choices were Gap, Benetton, or LL Bean. Music was mostly limited to classic rock, metal, and top hit R&B or pop music on the radio. Everyone was excited when Olive Garden moved in to the less popular mall off our town’s four lane highway. I was raised by my oddball parents as an agnostic vegetarian non-athlete but I did my best to play a sport and wear Gap and surreptitiously pick off the pepperoni from pizza. My house was full of books and odds and ends of furniture, and I would often fantasize about my parents remodeling our kitchen to look like the other moms’ country geese theme, and that my dad’s shabby  grand piano would be replaced by a giant TV and a Nintendo. I didn’t watch much TV or listen to the radio. My town was what I knew; I wasn’t a fit for it, but I thought that was the only mold there was.

The only inkling that I had of other ways of living came from Sassy Magazine, which somehow my feminist, obese, and fashion/makeup adverse mom got me when she heard about it from her own Ms. magazine. It was a lifeline to the idea that people my age lived and thought differently than what I thought was the only norm. In Sassy, the fashion was funky. The music that got profiled was alternative. None of the models were white suburban girls with spraychick bangs. The writers talked to you like you were cool, and in on it all. And they talked about real world issues, and were feminists, and they loved cute alternative boys, and they showed you how to do DIY projects, and they talked about books. Sassy is where I found out about Weetzie Bat.

Each of the approximately thirty bajillion times that I read Weetzie, I knew that I was reading a fairy tale. If I had known the term “magical realism” then, I would have known the story had plenty of it. But here’s the thing: having never been to Los Angeles, having never met a hipster, having never been to a vintage store, having never been into an alternative music scene, and having absolutely no sense of fashion beyond The Gap, I had no way of detecting which parts of Weetzie were fantasy and which parts were real things or people you could find in a place like Los Angeles. It was all mythical to me, and yet I sensed that the author was tapping into something that really abounded in some form or other. Weetzie gave me more of the feeling that other possibilities existed than a roadmap to a different life. I absorbed Weetzie‘s magic and aesthetic into my being, although I did not outwardly change. When I finally traveled and lived outside of my home town, Weetzie was an ember that lived inside me that flared to life when I encountered something whimsical, or uncomfortably dark, or generally off the mainstream.

I am still not a Weetzie, and I don’t live a Weetzie life. But I do live in the San Francisco Bay Area which attracted me here with its pockets of Weetzieness. (Sorry L.A.). I do like thrift stores, and I like to rock some mid-century style dresses from time to time (I’m more Brandi-Lynn shaped than Weetzie-shaped), and I like weird people, and am more comfortable with being my own odd self than I have ever been. My partner is definitely an “alternative boy”, although more the punk/skater/BMXer than a Dirk or My Secret Agent Lover Man hipster. And like Weetzie, I do love showing out of town guests the odd whimsical pockets of the Bay, as well as all the delicious delicious places to eat. But all this Weetziness…seems so normal to me now. I don’t mean “boring” normal, because after more than fifteen years here in the Bay, I can still feel the magic of living here. Magic, but familiar.

It’s been more than a decade since I last read Weetzie Bat, but now that I’ve read Block’s prequel, Pink Smog, I’m kind of afraid to revisit it. Maybe part of the problem is that seventh grade Weetzie in Pink Smog isn’t really Weetzie yet. She’s still Louise. She’s more me in small town Massachusetts middle school than she is Weetzie. Or me now.

The thing I can put my finger on that disenchanted me was twelve year old Weetzie being such a name and brand dropper. In some ways she reminded me of the brand-conscious girls in the Pretty Little Liars books, except that Pink Smog is set in 1977 Los Angeles and Weetzie isn’t entirely going for the mainstream look. Unlike when I was twelve, I also recognize most of the landmarks and references Weetzie talks about or visits, so even the sometimes glittery pink smogged Los Angeles in this book seemed less fantastical than my memories of Weetzie Bat‘s L.A. did to my suburban preteen self.

The other thing that bothered me about Pink Smog was that Block heavily connects Weetzie’s pining for her runaway dad Charlie with her crushes on guys. It was a little icky the way Weetzie talks about being “in love” with her dad, and how she hopes that a certain boy will notice her to fill in the void her dad has left. I know there’s some dark stuff in the actual Weetzie Bat series, but I started to wonder if Charlie Bat was more sinister than just an absent father.

I’m not sad that I read Pink Smog, but I did kind of wonder how Weetzie Bat would seem to me now that I found some of my own Weetzieness…and actually visited L.A. Would the book still seem magical? I’m not sure I want to find out. I want to keep that Weetzie magic spark inside for as long as I can, through my youthful memories of it.


5 thoughts on “Review + Rememberance: What Weetzie Bat means to me

  1. Good grief, that picture of the girls with the gravity-defying bangs takes me back to when I first moved to the Boston area (1987). Nobody in my home college town in Ohio wore their hair like that!

    I never got around to reading Weetzie Bat because I thought I was too grown up for it at the time (ha, how things change 🙂 and because back then “YA” to me meant Paul Zindel, ME Kerr, Virginia Hamilton, and some other writers whose contemporary novels left me feeling icky and uncomfortable, so I tended to avoid that library shelf. I’ve always regretted missing it when it was new (and I still haven’t read it, although I’ve flipped through it a few times). Maybe one of these days.

  2. okay, I got confused because of the collage picture, lol…. I was expecting the pink smog cover, I need to focus more.

    But anyways, I loved your review. The whole enchantment of being a 12 year old and having your eyes opened to new possibilities by a book is something I can relate to too. It makes me wish I could have read the Weetzie books when I was about that age, seeing the magic of the world through Weetzie’s eyes. You captured that feeling perfectly.

    So going into Pink Smog, I wasn’t nearly as expectant. I was satisfied, it was enjoyable and I think few parts actually really got me, but it never disillusioned me because I don’t think I was ever able to experience Weetzie like the way you describe.

    That being said, I understand your reason for being wary of revisiting the original Weetzie books, I had similar experience with Ella Enchanted when I started rereading it when I was 18 (it was the first time I had picked it up in 2 years) and started feeling myself actually criticizing it and cringing at it, and I just had to put the book down. I had reread that book so many times since the first time I had read it hen I was 9, and never had that kind of reaction before. My heart broke a little, and now I’m terrified to try again. Now, when I feel nostalgic for it, I just try to remember how I felt when first reading, and all the doors it opened for me, but I don’t know if I’ll read it again.

    • That’s funny Sarah, because I read Ella Enchanted in my early 30s and I was thoroughly, well, enchanted. But I often find that one’s experience with a book does not remain static. I’ve gone back and forth on whether I hate, love or am indifferent to Catcher in the Rye. On other books I’ve gone from fiery hate (Old Man and the Sea; 1984) to repeated readings because I like it so much. And of course, I’ve had the opposite experience (I was enraptured by Tom Robbins books in college, now I find them tiresome).

      But I think the stakes are higher when it’s a book you have a deep emotional connection to, when the book is more like a treasured friend that an intellectual enjoyment.

  3. Yep, I too read Weetzie Bat as a tween (wow, decades ago now). We’d just moved from urban to country and it was very timely. I remember the sensation that I’d never read another book quite like it before. The grunge and the dirt mixed with glitter and gold. Loved it.

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