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Is The City I Live In The City Of Angels?

Forever Young Adult Presents: A review of Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie by Francesca Lia Block

Is The City I Live In The City Of Angels?

BOOK REPORT for Pink Smog by Francesca Lia Block

Cover Story: Yikes
BFF Charm: Yep
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Pink Melancholy
Bonus Factor: L.A.
Relationship Status: Loyal Friend

Cover Story: Yikes

Believe it or not, I would totally rock this cover if it was bedazzled and dripping feathers and glitter -- then the overpowering pink would just be part of the Weetize Bat kitsch. But the absence of anything shiny means this book stayed close to home while I was reading it. Young lady, no way are you leaving the house dressed like that!

The Deal:

In this prequel to the acclaimed Weetzie Bat books, Weetzie is in seventh grade and the only person who doesn't call her "Louise" is her dad, Charlie. But Charlie just left Weetzie and her mom, and they're floundering. Brandy-Lynn spends her days soaked in alcohol, and Weetzie can't seem to fit in her new junior high. A guardian angel boy named Winter, two new outcast friends, mysterious riddles, and the scary girl in Apartment 13 -- whose mom might have had an affair with Charlie -- help Weetzie face her heartbreak and learn to take on the world with sparkles and charm.

BFF Charm: Yep

I know, that doesn't sound very enthusiastic, does it? I'm mostly grandfathering in Weetzie's BFF charm from the later books (reverse grandfathering? Whatever). She's a little too unfocused and thin here, and I'm sure part of it is because this book is about how she finds her groove, and part of it is because all 13-year-olds are a bit unfocused and thin. But Weetzie desperately needs a best friend -- one who isn't paid by her dad, or isn't going to move away, or one who doesn't have bigger problems than she does -- and I'm happy to step in.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

There's not much to swoon over here -- Weetzie's only guy friend is Bobby Castillo, who's gay, and Winter Wiggins, the mysterious angel boy who lives in Apartment 13 and has a creepy voodoo sister (who may or may not grow up to be the Jayne-Mansfield-Lanka-Witch-Woman mother of Witch Baby -- I'm just speculating here) and is 18 and therefore too old for Weetzie, despite the 1970s setting and all evidence from YA books of that era to the contrary (I've talked about this before, but have you noticed how in YA from the '70s and '80s, it's totally not weird or creepy or gross for a middle school girl to have a thing with a much older guy, even though all I can imagine for those guys is Wooderson from Dazed and Confused?). Anyway, so that leaves little to swoon over, but I did think the depiction of Weetzie's heartbroken, hopeless crush on Winter was poignant.

All the love I felt for my father, all the love that had gotten scattered in the wind when I saw Charlie leave, was attaching to the boy like glitter attaches to glue when you sprinkle it on your art project.

Talky Talk: Pink Melancholy

I came out of this book with a MAJOR case of the sads. I mean hardcore. It didn't make me cry in public (or at all), but when I got some bad news from a friend the day I finished the book, that bad news hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm not saying I wouldn't have been broken up over her news anyway, but damn. It was like mixing alcohol with Percoset. And I was surprised, because the other books might be filled with loneliness and anger and sadness, but they're also buoyant and bubbly and incandescent. But while Weetzie finally flies away, above her pain, I never was able to shake the melancholia. As Weetzie says, "Days just happened to me, and then nights." It's the spareness in Block's otherwise lush writing that just hits and sinks.

The paramedics checked her out and said she was okay and then they left, too. I watched their strong shoulders being swallowed up by the nighttime. I wanted something more from them -- some reassuring look or smile, but they had only seemed bored and tired as if they saw this thing all the time. It had only happened once to me and I never wanted it to happen again.

I also didn't feel like the various threads of the story hung together well -- Weetzie's dealing with her dad leaving, OK. She makes two friends at school, and they deal with being bullied by not being afraid, good. But then there's a subplot involving the evil voodoo neighbor girl and her angelic brother, Winter, and another subplot involving a mysterious scavenger hunt, and these were disappointing. Where the original Weetzie books shine is in their topsy-turvy, glittery, crumbling glamour and mixing of magic with everyday life, and I wish the subplots here had had more heft.

Bonus Factor: L.A.

There's something captivating about the L.A. of these books -- the aging glamour, the tarnished facades, the way the sunsets are so beautiful because of all the smog in the air. The hottest woman on the street is really a male Marilyn Monroe impersonator, and the real Marilyn's grave is tucked away in a quiet, shaded, garden cemetery, half forgotten. Cecil Castellucci captures it in Beige, too, and it's one of my favorite settings.

Casting Call:

Elle Fanning as Weetzie

Elle has the looks and the talent to be Weetzie.

MSCL-era Wilson Cruz as Bobby Castillo

I know it's not Choose Your Own Adventure, but can we time travel here? Because no one could be my Bobby Castillo but Wilson Cruz.

Relationship Status: Loyal Friend

I've already professed my love for these books, vowing to stick with them even when they annoy me or piss me off, because they're like family. Right now, Weetzie's going through one of those boring depressions, but like Mindy Kaling says, a true best friend sticks with you when you're depressed and tedious. This is not to say the book is tedious, but it is to say it's like the depressed friend who, when you pop in with a pizza and bottle of wine to cheer up with a Lifetime movie or two, ends up dragging you down and you're both sobbing into your cabernet by the time John Stamos shows up on screen. In short, if you love the Weetzie books, you'll appreciate this one, and I think it will help introduce the books to a new audience, but damn. Has anyone seen my Zoloft?

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from HarperCollins. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Pink Smog will be available January 24 (next week!).

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.