Sep 21, 2009

Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

Dangerous Angels collects Francesca Lia Block’s five Weetzie Bat novellas, originally published between 1989 and 1995: Weetzie Bat, Witch Baby, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, Missing Angel Juan and the controversial Baby Be-Bop. And how do I even begin to tell you what they’re about? I think I’ll have to resort to quoting Nick Hornby’s immortal words in Shakespeare Wrote for Money:
Weetzie Bat is, I suppose, about single mothers and AIDS and homosexuality and loneliness, but that’s like saying that “Desolation Row” is about Cinderella and Einstein and Bette Davis. And actually, when I was trying to recall the last time I was exposed to a mind this singular, it was Dylan’s book Chronicles that I thought of—not because Block thinks or writes in a similar way, and she certainly doesn’t write or think about similar things, but because this kind of originality in prose is very rare indeed.
The prose is indeed unique, as is the world Block created (which is our world but-not-quite), and this a big part of what makes these books so amazing. Still, I suppose a short synopsis of sorts might be helpful: the books are urban fairy tales set in LA, and they begin when Weetzie Bat meets her best friend Dirk in high school. Dirk is gay and dreams of finding someone to love; Weetzie is not and dreams of the same. There’s a magical plot involving a genie and three wishes, and Dirk and Weetzie do end up meeting two special someones. I won’t tell you how, but I can tell you that their troubles don't end there. The rest of the series focuses on Weetzie’s children, Witch Baby and Cherokee Bat, except for Baby Be-Bop, which is a prequel of sorts about Dirk’s life before he met Weetzie.

That’s just the basic plot, and as I was saying before, the plot doesn’t tell you much. You know, these books are almost too much: too quirky, too twee, too cutesy and punk fairy tale-ish; too colourful, too hyper, too full of perfect characters who surf and cook vegetarian meals and worry about the world. Except they never are. Because suddenly there are these little moments that absolutely shatter me, and I find myself crying and don’t even know how it happened, how Francesca Lia Block managed to do that. But manage she does, again and again. Believe me, it takes quite a bit for me to love books that use expressions like “lanky lizards” and “slinkster-cool” so freely and that have characters named My Secret Agent Lover Man. But I loved these.

My favourite was probably Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, in which Weetzie’s daughters and their boyfriends start a band. It’s the most fairy tale-ish of them all, with a pair of wings and fur pants and goat horns with strange powers. But it’s not about magic, and not even mainly about music. The boyfriends are not boyfriends when the story begins, so it’s about that moment between childhood and adulthood; about sexual awakening and longing and love, about vulnerability and fear; about passion, identity and belonging. It’s such a beautiful book.

And oh, so is Missing Angel Juan, a ghost story of sorts in which Witch Baby, Weetzie’s misfit almost-daughter, spends Christmas in New York on her deceased almost-grandfather’s apartment, and roams the streets looking for her boyfriend Angel Juan. And while she's at it she learns how to let go, how to let the boy she loves have room for other things in his life. Oh, just read it. I can’t do it justice, but it’s beautiful and slightly unsettling and very very moving.

And then there’s Baby Be-Bop, in which we see a young Dirk fall in love for the first time, and worry about what it all means, and fear that there’s something wrong with him, that his grandmother who raised him will reject him, that nobody will ever accept him because he likes boys. I honestly cried every five pages or so: it's so human, so painful, and ultimately so full of love.

My favourite thing about all these books is really how full of love they are. It’s not easy to create something this earnest, this completely devoid of cynicism, and this fragile and vulnerable that doesn’t fall apart. There were a hundred moments in which these books could have become sentimental or clich├ęd, but they never ever did. And I love them for it.

Read Banned Books

A few of my favourite passages:
You can feel sad and worse when your dad moves to another city, when an old lady dies, or when your boyfriend goes away. But grief is different. Weetzie’s heart cringed in her like a dying animal. It was as if someone had stuck a needle full of poison into her heart. She moved like a sleepwalker. She was the girl in the fairy tale sleeping in a prison of thorns and roses.

There was a constant tossing and turning of their bodies, a constant burning heat. She remembered how she had slept before—a caterpillar in a cocoon, muffled and peaceful. Now she woke up fragile and shaky like some new butterfly whose wings are still translucent green, easy to tear and awaiting their color. All day she smelled Raphael on her skin.

An amusement park in winter is like when you go to the place where you went with the person you love but they’re not with you anymore. Everything rickety and cold and empty. If you had cotton candy it would burn your lips and cut your throat like spun pink glass. If you rode the roller coaster you’d have to hold on tight to the bar to keep your whole body from being lifted off the sea with nobody there to hang on to except maybe a ghost.

The skinheads were on him all at once. Dirk saw their eyes glittering like mica chips with the reflections of his own self-loathing. He wondered if he deserved this because he wanted to touch and kiss a boy. The sound of everything was so loud and he kept seeing the skinhead skulls with the stubble, the bunches of flesh at the back of the neck like a bulldog’s. His own head felt like a shell. A thin one you could crush on the beach. He had never realized how delicate his head was. This pain was hardly different from what he had always felt inside—torn, jarred, pummelled. In a way it was a relief—a confirmation of that other pain. But he wanted to escape it all finally.
Other Opinions:
Becky’s Book Reviews
Stella Matutina: Missing Angel Juan, Baby Be-Bop
An Adventure in Reading: Weetzie Bat
Valentina's Room: Weetzie Bat, Witch Baby, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys
somewhere i have never travelled - Weetzie Bat
I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell do I Read? - Baby Be-Bop
Paperback Reader - Weetzie Bat
Nothing of Importance

(Did I miss yours?)


  1. Ah. I need to lift Weetzie Bat off the Children's bookshelf because I can't believe I've still not read it... but I'll read it and then have to buy the sequels, I know I will.

    A few shorter reads this week to be interspersed with The Children's Book is probably a good idea.

  2. Feeling ever so grateful that I already own this! :D I'm so torn...I really, really, really want to read this next week for banned books week, but I also really want to sit down and finally finish up all the books I have started already so I can't stop feeling so suffocated. Oh, maybe I'll just work on "in progress" books until then, and then squeeze this one in in the middle. ;)
    I'm sure I've probably told you before, but while I've only read one of her books before, I just totally fell in love with her writing. And I have to admit, beautiful writing isn't really something I always notice, but with her it's impossible not to! I know some people find her writing to be "too much" but I absolutely adore it!
    Soooooo happy you loved this so much! :D

  3. Claire: Reading short books alongside The Children's Book is a great idea, and Weetzie Bat would be perfect! I'm afraid that it WILL make you want the sequels, though :P

    Debi: Thank you again for getting me this're the best :D I read it a bit too early for Banned Books Week, but I decided to count it anyway :P Hopefully I'll managed to read something else next week to celebrate properly. And you know, even though this is a long book it's a REALLY fast read. Just saying :P

  4. What a beautifully written review -- these books definitely sound unique and well worth reading. I read a short story by this author years ago (I've forgotten the title) that explored the themes of homosexuality and friendship. Good stuff. :-)

  5. I am so torn about this book. I think I should read it, especially after what's going on in West Bend, but I just don't know if I'd like this kind of book. The whole fairy tale thing usually just doesn't work for me, and I'm not sure the GLBT themes would be enough to make up for that, you know? So torn...

  6. Stephanie, thank you so much for the kind words! I struggled a bit while writing this post because there was so much to say, but I didn't want to say too much, you know? Those themes are prevalent in this series as well - if you liked that short story, you'd probably like these too!

    Amanda: They're not fairy tales in a traditional sense, actually. They're realistic for a good deal of the time, except when suddenly they're not :P I guess a lot of people would describe her work as magic realism, and I can see why. This has a different feel than most of the fantasy I read - it reminded me of Alice Hoffman, for example. Still, she IS very quirky, and I can see why not everyone would like the books.

  7. This sounds like an excellent series of books. I don't recall reading about this in Shakespeare Wrote for Money (although this was during the 24 hour readathon, and I could have been zoning out =), but if you and Hornby recommend something I know it's definitely something I want to read.

    This was a great review, as always, Nymeth!

  8. This sounds a bit like what Orson Scott Card did with A Midsummer Night's Dream in Magic Street. It worked for me, mostly. I'll have to check these out.

  9. At first I was sort of turned off from reading the names of the characters! But the passages you quoted are so good I'm definitely reconsidering. And I like that new box deal for your replies! Very nice!

  10. Block really is a very original writer. These books--on first glance--never sound like something I'd like. However, reading passages like those you included here prove all over again that Block is worth reading--whatever she writes. Thanks for a great review, Nymeth!

  11. Urban L.A. fairy tale! I need to read this. I love reading about the moments that shatter you---sometimes I think those moments redeem the entire novel.

  12. This is an unusual book with cute names like Weetzie Bat and Cherokee Bat. I think I'll enjoy reading this book - hope I can find it here in Malaysia!

    Ooh, I like the cover too. :)

  13. I should read something from this series. I have heard good things...

  14. I read Weetzie Bat a few months ago on a bad night and it was totally sweet and comforting and strange and wonderful. I would love to read the whole series, maybe on a rainy weekend? (everything sounds good to read on a rainy weekend). I did love Weetzie and Dirk... lovely review, and reminded me how sweet these books are. They *are* almost too much... but then, they aren't.

  15. Ah! I am so glad you liked it! Francesca Lia Block is probably one of my all time favorite authors. Missing Angel Juan is probably my favorite out of the series-- I vaguely remember almost shedding a tear at one point.

    Her novel Echo is also really good, or at least from what I can remember. It has been a while since I've read them.


  16. OMG these books sound so freaking good!! I'm totally adding this to my wishlist. Why do I feel like I have something of hers on my TBR stacks already? I'm going to have to go check my LibraryThing and see if I own one of her books already...if I do, I'm reading it ASAP!

  17. A friend of mine swears by FLB. I have yet to encounter any of her work but I do plan on getting to it sometime soon. I had no idea she did such controversial work. Enticing review, this'll have to move up on my list

  18. Have this book on my shelf but haven't had the chance to read it! I've always been curious about her books, I've heard she has a unique style of writing. Thanks for blogging about it and reminding me about it! I'm going to read it as soon as possible now...


  19. I stumbled across these books in my high school library when I was 14 and loved them! :D

  20. I've never read Block, but have always meant to. I'm thinking of hosting a novella challenge in a month or two, so maybe I'll read one of these then.

  21. When I started reading your review, I was thinking I wouldn't enjoy this book at all. It sounds nothing like the stuff I normally read, but by the time I got to your favorite passages, I'd changed my mind. It sounds worth trying, and I'll keep it in mind for when my TBR pile is more under control.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  22. I loveloveloveloveloveloveloveloveLOVE these books, and Francesca Lia Block. WEETZIE BAT was the first YA I ever read, and it blew me out of the water. Until then, I'd had all these misconceptions about what YA could be. She changed all that.

    I reread the books around the time I started blogging. I've reviewed MISSING ANGEL JUAN and BABY BE-BOP.

    And I'm sure you already plan to read it, but I highly recommend NECKLACE OF KISSES. It's a wonderful return to these characters.

  23. What a heartfelt review, lovely. I haven't read anything by the author, but really should. The book covers are always so beautiful.

  24. The words "Magic realism" just made my day. I'm leaning more towards reading them now!

  25. I absolutely LOVED these books, especially "Missing Angel Juan" and "Baby Be-Bop." I had a different edition of this, which I've read so many times the covers have literally fallen apart. I bought a new one for myself and gave mine to my best friend, who also fell in love with it.

    I haven't re-read this in years, though. Maybe I should.

  26. J.S. Peyton: You know that Nick Hornby and I don't lie :D

    Jeanne: I read Magic Street a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. These books have quite a different feel, but I can see with my post made you think of it!

    Jill: I can see why the characters' names are off-putting, lol. But the books are so amazing it doesn't even better. And thank you - I'm glad you like the new comments thingie :D

    Andi: Often when reading synopsis of her books I catch myself thinking "meh", but what she does with the premises is so amazing that they're always worth reading!

    T.Y. - I pretty much LIVE for those moments <3

    Josette: I hope you can too!

    Kailana: Yes you should! You should read all of them, actually :P Each book is only about 100 pages long, so you'll be done quickly!

    Daphne: They're perfect for a rainy weekend, yes! They're just so sweet. And it's amazing how everything is almost too much but then never is - she steps on the line but never crosses it.

    She: I LOVED Missing Angel Juan. I loved them all, really <3 And I'll keep an eye out for Echo for sure!

    Chris: They really are freaking good! If you do have a book of hers already, READ IT :P

    Lena: Reading these books, it's almost unbelievable they're controversial. But then again, most banned books make me feel that way. These are just so sweet, though, so full of love, that I'm particularly amazed that people can hate them so intensely.

    Sharry: She really is unique. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!

    Eva: I can see why!

    J.T. Oldfield: Oooh, these would be perfect for a novella challenge!

    Anna: yay! I'm glad I was able to convince you to give them a try :D

    Memory: Thank you for the links! And I actually didn't know there was another book with these characters! I WANT IT.

    Mandy: Thank you for the kind words! And I definitely recommend reading FLB :)

    Amanda: To be honest, I avoid using the term "magic realism" because I really don't see how it differs from fantasy. But yes, that's what some people would call these :P

    Marineko: The last 3 were my favourites, but they're all SO GOOD. And I can see myself reading them again and again too :)

  27. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Holly Black books whilst reading this review. I can see similarities.

    I would definitely enjoy reading these.

  28. The cover hooked me. I never thought that kitsch like that would ever work for me, but it did especially on this cover and I would have to read this one in secret before my sister sees all the pink. I am labelling this proudly urban fantasy for it has modern city surroundings and magic. YES!

  29. After reading your review I am going right over to order a copy of this book. All that you have said here about these books really interests me and the fact that they hit you so profoundly makes me all the more excited about them. Great review!

  30. This is SO on my list of books to read. I've actually read a copy of books by Lia Block and thought they were fantastic.

    I. Must. Get. To. This. Book. SOON!

  31. Harry Markov: Well, urban fantasy seems like a fair enough designation for them :P

    Zibilee: yay! I hope you enjoy them :D

    Stephanie: :P Block is an amazing writer!

  32. Vivienne: (Eep! I missed your comment before! I'm so sorry) From what I hear Holly Black's books are much darker, but I can see what made you think of them.

  33. Never heard of Weetzie Bat before. Really like the butterfly simile though.

  34. oh I'm so glad you enjoyed these!! I still haven't read Baby Be pop so now you're ahead of me hihi:P

  35. You've made me want to reread these! I just love these books, the prose, the characters, the inimitable storytelling style. And I had the same experience - thinking they were almost too much - but then finding myself moved to tears, time and time again.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.