November 29, 2005

Three From Weetzie World Revisited

You know what I think of Weetzie Bat. I've said before that there are some bits of that L.A. lifestyle Francesca Lia Block depicted that were beautiful and evocative, but on the other hand, the story has a ... slickness that prevents the reader from stopping long enough in the fast-paced glitz to say, "Hey! What just happened!?" The three books I reviewed show the fingerprints of Block's style. One has the actual L.A. landscape, all have the risky behavior, (although it is very toned down in the British book) and a third has Weetzie's breezy verbal tang. One thing all three books have is a moment to slow down and think about what's going on - both in terms of consequences and reasons for actions. That made them worthwhile for me.

Shopaholic, by Judy Waite, tells of a British girl who doesn't fit into the spangled and glitzy landscape of the world around her. Her friends are growing into different people, and she can't keep up. Her mother is no longer working, and is entrenched in a debilitating depression because of the death of her younger sister. As Taylor becomes more and more invisible, she is desperately grateful for the attentions of an older, glamorous girl at school. Kat is flashy, and Taylor is enormously flattered by being singled out, but it seems as if Kat, too, is on the verge of depression. She doesn't have enough money to fund her faltering modeling career. Taylor longs to help Kat feel that her life is worth living, but the reader can see clearly that Kat is manipulating her. It is a wrench to discover just how much, but when Taylor begins to see her own value, the reader cheers.

Certainly not for the reasons that were hyped, or for the promotional travel tumbler (Um, Simon & Schuster marketing department? Maybe that was trying too hard? Just a thought...), I actually found that I loved the much ballyhooed novel,Gingerbread, by Rachel Cohn, very much, even though I took my time in picking it up. Heroine Cyd Charisse is very much a 'reformed-hellion,' but she never lets on that she's reformed too much. She sounds like a younger, goofier Weetzie, down to her love of collecting unique people (an elderly woman named Sugar Pie, for instance), except she has well-moneyed and more mentally-present parents.

Speaking of parents, Cyd's mother is about through with her trashing her curfews and running wild on the beach with her surfer boyfriend, Shrimp, and his brother. She's unhappy enough to ship Cyd off to her father -- the man she's longed for. After all, he once gave her a rag doll that she still keeps, and he gave her the best gingerbread she'd ever had. So what if he's her "little indiscretion," and she's got older sibs she's never even met? He'll want her, even if her mother doesn't.

It's a surprise to Cyd to find that the father she sought isn't such a big deal. Things are much more complicated on the East Coast than she could have believed. Cyd has to discover a more mature version of herself before she wrecks herself, and how she does it is what makes this book special.

It's rare that a book brings a scary moment in my adolescence back to me in living color, but that's what Kicks, by Janet Fitch, did for me. Laurie Greenspan thinks her friend Carla's parents are way cooler than her own -- her father had a head injury that has taken him from the scientist he once was to being little more than a TV watching zombie; her Russian mother is a workaholic, driven to allow her brother to succeed and holding the family together by sheer willpower. It's not that there isn't any love, it's just that there isn't any time for it. There's work to do.

Laurie would rather hang out with Carla, whose psychologist parents understand that sometimes people just have to do what they have to do. Nobody makes Carla do chores, or get a job. Nobody gives Carla any lip, either. Laurie has to stand by idly while Carla goes to all of the parties, and gets all of the boys. Then, Laurie watches her take off with the cutest guy ever, on his Harley, to ride up in the hills around Topanga Canyon, when he was talking to her first. Sometimes a girl's just got to do what she's got to do... and Laurie decides that she needs to start taking risks. Unfortunately, her risk involves real life - and Carla's near brush with death by drug overdose dissolves a friendship that has lasted since childhood.

This story has a somewhat sad ending, but not for the reasons you might think. It's not a cautionary tale as much as it's a story about realizing where you stand. It's an important read for teens who feel like they're doing things to keep up with others - it makes you think about who's calling the shots for them - and why.

It's important that writers continue to write books about risky behavior - eventually almost everyone gets involved with it. Here's hoping more of the novels are stories with heart like these.

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

I did like Gingerbread. I found it more down-to-earth than Weetzie Bat and, for me, that gave it more impact and drew me in much more effectively. The language enhanced rather than obscured, if that makes sense.