3 min read

Forgetful nostalgia and 90s Young Adult Fiction

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On Tuesday at Stories in Los Angeles, some writers I know are having a reading. Cool! Totally normal thing I'll happily attend. But then I saw another author's name on the lineup: Francesca Lia Block.

::cue 15-year-old me freaking the FUCK out::

When I was a voracious reader as a kid - the thing I now know can be a trauma response - I read every. single. one. of Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books. It's a Young Adult coming-of-age series based in Los Angeles, centered around Weetzie Bat and their friends. The seven novels are a teenage magical realist timeline of finding yourself, chosen family, unconventional love, and queerness. I loved it. I have not read them since, but they certainly stuck with me.

The way she describes Los Angeles undoubtedly colored my perception of the city well before I moved here. Jacarandas are mentioned quite a bit and I didn't even know what they looked like until I got here and realized they flower bright purple in the early summer and really do look magical. The world she described seemed like Lauren Canyon in the 70s full of hippy rock stars but a bit more punk rock, 90s, and gay. Everyone seemed young enough to still live at home, except parents were mostly absent from the story. I lived vicariously through her characters and it has become part of my attachment to my neighborhood, seeing similarities between the atmosphere of those novels and walking around on summer evenings now.

I can't describe exactly why, but even though some characters were in heterosexual relationships the whole thing always felt very queer to me. The books address LGBTQIA+ relationships, abortion, the AIDS epidemic, and more in a way that teenage me very much needed back then. I remember it reading like a wistful yet troubled teenager's journal, full of drama and over-romanticized views of pretty much everything.

As with most things made a certain number of years ago, there's a lot of not-so-great stuff that I didn't pick up on in the 90s. Cue current-me saying AH, FUCK. Things like emphasizing thinness, appropriating indigenous cultures, racial stereotypes, etc. appear all over the series. This piece in The Paris Review gets at a lot of it, along with the frustration of remembering what you needed to take from the books, having shed the dated and cringey parts. Cringey parts that are just not ok. Full stop.

I found out today that the books are currently being adapted for television, hopefully without the appropriation and weird racial stereotyping. I mean, hopefully even more queer! I can hope, can't I?

Francesca Lia Block published another novel (for adults!) last year called House of Hearts that I'll likely check out soon. Fingers crossed it holds up better than Weetzie Bat wearing a headdress. Oof. Why! I know she addressed some of these issues publicly quite a while ago, though I'd be curious how she feels about them now. I'm not going to hand the series out to teenage relatives any time soon but I'm nonetheless excited to see what she's up to now, having been so ahead of her time in certain aspects of YA.

Since I am not the expert on YA in the slightest and don't know many people who read things in that zone, if you have any recommendations - with emphasis on queer/POC voices, I'd love to share them. I know Google exists but I'd love to hear if you or a young adult you know has something specific to recommend.

Books I want to read this summer:

a "Working Life" by Eileen Myles (another favorite writer who is coincidentally having a book launch at Stories the following day!)
You Will Find Your People: How To Make Meaningful Friendships as an Adult by Lane Moore
Black Punk Now by Chris L. Terry and James Spooner
House of Hearts by Francesca Lia Block

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