I’ve been hearing about Francesca Lia Block and the Weetzie Bat books for years and years, so decided to sit down and read through this omnibus collection of the first five novels (novellas, really; all five come in at less than 500 pages). In the first book, we are introduced to Weetzie Bat and her collection of odd characters and friends. And when I say "introduced," I mean that literally - we don't really get to know them in any depth. The style of the writing here has been described as whimsical and quirky. Is it unbearably hip, or is it just silly? The narration comes with a very detached viewpoint – we’re told about characters and events, but nothing really ever seems to matter, and nothing is discussed in death. There are serious issues at the heart of the book (love, death, AIDS), but the book never really deals with them. I had real issues with the time setting of the book. It's set in a vaguely fantastical version of L.A., but it's not really clear when. Another issue with time I had is determining how much time has passed. Sometimes it feels like months or years have passed between one paragraph and the next, but it's never really made clear.
The second novel, Witch Baby, has a somewhat more serious tone (the writing really develops and changes as the books progress), dealing with issues of alienation and belonging (or not belonging) in a more adult vein.
The third novel, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, is probably my favorite of the five. Four of the characters form a band, and the book follows the trials and tribulations of that. The story follows a much more traditional narrative arc, which is probably one of the reasons I liked it more. Plus, I liked the band/music element of the story. Again, the ages of the characters is not really clear; 3 of the 4 band members go to "school" while the fourth member, Angel Juan, goes to work. Block's descriptions of her characters and events are often flighty, magical, and whimsical, but just as often not very clear. I had a hard time visualizing some of this.
The fourth novel, Missing Angel Juan, has a completely different tone for a number of reasons: it's narrated in first person (by Witch Baby); it's not divided into chapters like the other books; it's primarily set in NYC, which the author obviously doesn't love the way she loves L.A. There's a good narrative story here, but I didn't like it quite as much as the previous novel. It's also serious, sometimes grim, almost scary. And the "magical" aspects of the books comes more to the fore here; one of the major characters in this novel is a ghost.
The final book in this collection, Baby Be-Bop, takes another twist and turn from the previous. It's the backstory of Dirk, one of the major characters in Weetzie Bat, but who hasn't been seen or heard from much since. The first half of the book tells of Dirk's childhood and growing up, while the second half tells the stories of Dirk's father, grandmother, and great-grandmother, through the appearance of those characters in the form of ghosts or spirits, which might all be happening in Dirk's mind. Kind of interesting, though it's hard to tie it all together.
Reviews of these books seem to reveal that people either love them (especially if read when they were young) or hate them (primarily due to Block's style and themes). I'm firmly in the middle. The latter books are definitely better than the first couple. Block deals with important issues of sexuality (including a number of gay characters), family (both those we are born into and those we find), love, belonging, and other "big-issue" ideas that teens would likely be drawn to. As an older reader, I enjoyed the books but wasn't enthralled by them.