Francesca Lia Block’s debut novel Weetzie Bat is, for me, inextricably linked to Duthie Books in downtown Vancouver. Which is no longer there and when I heard that it had closed, an image of teenage me jumped into my brain, hiding in the corner of the kids’ book section, devouring Weetzie Bat because I didn’t have the five dollars to actually buy the book (and it wasn’t at the library). And it is only eighty-eight pages long. I’m a fast reader. I can read eighty-eight pages before a bookstore clerk stumbles upon me and tells me to quit loitering.
But I did manage to dig up the five dollars to actually buy the book eventually (maybe change my roommate kept losing in the sofa?) because this is the kind of book you have to own. And when I finally did own it, I ran home and read it, choosing the perfect reading music and settling onto the mattress on the floor that served as my bed. And when I finished, I flipped back to the beginning and immediately re-read it. Because it is the perfect punk rock fairy tale. There are other books that follow—Witch Baby, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, Missing Angel Juan, Baby Be-Bop (all of which are also amazing, especially Missing Angel Juan)—but it is Weetzie Bat that owns my heart until the end of time.
I’ve never been to LA where the book is set, and I doubt I’ll ever go. I couldn’t handle the real place and seeing where it fails to measure up to the rubber chicken inhabited paradise of the book. A place where “you could buy tomahawks and plastic palm tree wallets at the Farmers’ Market…the waitresses wore skates at the Jetson-style Tiny Naylor’s…and not too far away was Venice, with columns and canals, even, like the real Venice but maybe cooler because of the surfers.” High-school student Weetzie and her best friend Dirk (who is gay, a little on the subversive side considering this was published in 1989, when YA books were still tiptoeing around the not-straight thing) go to gigs, stagedive, smoke tons of cigarettes, drive around in Dirk’s red ’55 Pontiac (named Jerry), drink rum from secret flasks and eat delicious burritos at Oki Dogs.
Weetzie sleeps with guys that are not really that great for her, or in Block’s words, “Weetzie kept falling for the wrong Ducks.” When all she wants is My Secret Agent Lover Man. And then, thanks to a genie in a lamp given to her by Dirk’s amazing Grandma Fifi, Weetzie gets to make three wishes. So she wishes for a Duck for Dirk, My Secret Agent Lover Man for herself and a house for all of them to live in. And of course, in the way of any great book, she slams into unexpected consequences.
I can only say that I love this book. Nothing could ever make me not love it. I’ve read it a million times (not an exaggeration!) and I will probably read it a million more. On my latest reading, my heart sank at the yellowed pages. It’s only a matter of time before those pages start falling out. After all, I’ve been turning these pages for nearly twenty years. And when this battered copy finally becomes unreadable, I will buy a new one and read it to death too. This is the kind of book you do that to.