Saturday, September 8, 2007

Weetzie Bat

Before I start I need to apologize. This isn't a favorable review, and I know we sometimes can take very personally when someone dislikes a book that we treasure. I hope that this can be read as simply my honest opinion of a BOOK, not of anyone who reads it or enjoys it, or recommends it to someone else. It's JUST a book review, and nothing personal.

I am hoping that no one writes me off as a right-wing conservative, bigot at the end of this review, but you might, and that's okay. We're all entitled to our opinions. Let me start out by saying that it isn't the elements you would think that bother me most about this book. On the outside it has cutesy pink cover and the innocent, and prevalent theme that unconditional love conquers all. I'll be the first to say that I think we could all do with a lot less judgment and a lot more love. What bothers me most about this book is that it glamorizes a lifestyle that is dangerous and often deadly and is marketed to young adults. The lifestyle of free love, partying, underage drinking and illegal substance abuse is made to look fun and fancy free on the streets of L.A, as long as you have a good friend and a funky sense of style. Even an episode that can be described as no less than a date rape is glossed over as "just another thing that happens when you live the glam life."
When my young daughters saw the cover they all eagerly asked to read this book. At ages 9, 8 and 7 it is easily within their abilities to do so. It appalls me to consider that little girls are picking up this book everyday and learning that it's alright to make poor choices as long as you're cool and open minded. I hope that somehow the author was so caught up in the idea of making what society calls a typically unlovable lifestyle more acceptable that she didn't consider the deeper and more dangerous messages she was sending.
In my mind, the market for this book is absolutely unconscionable. It's not a book I will be recommending to anyone.


Sarah Miller said...

I don't care much for Francesca Lia Block either (not on moral grounds -- her style just doesn't appeal to me). What startled me most about your review is your statement that your 9, 8, and 7-year-olds would be capable of reading Weetzie Bat. I'd consider Block's books to be a good 5-8 years beyond the average reading levels for those ages.

I'm also doubtful that many little girls are going have a chance to pick up Weetzie Bat every day. It's certainly not something you're going to find shelved next to Junie B. Jones or Laura Ingalls Wilder, and probably won't be found in an elementary or middle school library at all. In addition, any librarian or bookseller worth her salt will immediately steer a kid that young away from something so blatantly age-inappropriate.

Your concerns about the book's message to young adults are certainly worth considering (and I might read the book again in light of your opinion) but I really do think it's a stretch to worry about Weetzie Bat's potential to affect elementary age kiddos.

Anonymous said...

actually all my girl ARE avid readers and read far above grade level and into high school age grade level. They would consider this book quite easy to read.
In my library it is shelved in the young adult section right next to much more age appropriate levels. Also the young adult section is actually staffed by the adult librarians away from the children's library. I am quite certain that many young people are checking this book out without any problem whatsoever.

Sarah Miller said...

Of course there are elementary age children who can read high school level vocabulary -- I was one of them once! That said, decoding is one thing but comprehension and emotional resonance are different matters altogether, as I'm sure you're well aware. As a bookseller it's a huge challenge to find content-appropriate books for high readers at that age. Just because a kid can decipher the language in a YA novel doesn't mean they're ready to digest what the book has to say. (That last bit isn't directed at you Dana -- it's just a frustration I run into all the time at work.)

tinylittlelibrarian said...

First off, I just want to be clear that I don't dispute at all your reaction to the book itself. I know her writing's not for everyone and even I who like her writing have been troubled by her treatment of sexual abuse. This is about kids getting their hands on the book.

I agree with Sarah Miller - my first reaction to your post was a huge, red-light, blaring WHOOOOOAAA! the target market for this book is NOT 7-9 year-olds, no matter how well they read, how short it is, or how pink the cover is. I wouldn't recommend it to a library patron under 15.

Even the most general definition of YA fiction is 12 and up. It's important to realize that YA literature isn't deemed YA solely on the basis of reading levels. There are gorgeously written, hefty books aimed at 9-12 year-olds and there are poorly written, short books for teens (and, as always, vice versa). Reading level and length are part of it, but I'd say content plays a much bigger part. An adult novella might only be 100 pages, but no-one would consider it for a small child. get all pedantic, the library (or bookstore or publisher) isn't there to keep kids from checking out books without any problem. The library doesn't act in loco parentis. It provides clearly defined children's and YA sections and the books are labelled as such (at least where I work and in the libraries I know) and youth services staff should be available to help (YA sections are tricky, true - most libraries don't have enough staffing for a dedicated YA librarian; but children's staff should still handle it - the adult staff in my library would never tolerate being expected to do YA).

But if parents either don't notice that their child has left the children's area or they let their kid go to the library alone (sadly, a really bad idea these days, safety-wise) and don't look at what they've checked out, then they:

1) Think their child can handle what they find
2) Are incredibly naive
3) Don't care
(Obviously none of them are you, Dana, but the number of parents who don't care or know enough to care? Staggering.)

Just for an example in a different context - how many parents would send a primary school kid to the video store a) alone and then b) not check what they'd rented?

In publishing and everywhere else, there's a lot of blurring between tweens and teens and 20-somethings these days, and it's definitely confusing.

But even with some blurriness, I think it's good to remember that the term YA does contain the word "adult" and ohhhh boy - a lot of it makes Weetzie bat look a) tame and b) very well-written (which I think it is, anyway, but compared to some of the dreck out there? No contest.)

The good news is, there's also a ton of fab children's/YA lit out there - I'd say more than ever before. It just takes parental guidance, like movies and music and TV.

(Side note: this was written on a day when a kid's parents decided it was dandy to leave him alone at the library while they went shopping and yours truly had to wait 40 minutes after closing with him til they came to get him. So I'm a superbig fan of parental responsibility, particularly today :-) )

Anonymous said...

unfortunately I think this response:
1) Think their child can handle what they find
2) Are incredibly naive
3) Don't care
(Obviously none of them are you, Dana, but the number of parents who don't care or know enough to care? Staggering.)

is very very indicative of most parents today. I would guess a majority of parents have absolutely no idea what their kids are reading, which is why the marketing of this book IS so disturbing to me. Frankly- i wouldn't want my 15 yo reading it either...but I am way on the "over protective" (to coin a badly misused phrase) end of the spectrum there.

That said, I don't know what the answer is as far as culpability for the publisher, author etc etc of any book that might be borderline appropriate, but I don't find THIS particular book to be youth appropriate in any way, shape or form.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

First, let me say I have NOT read Weetzie Bat. However, today I went book shopping with my 7-year-old, second-grade granddaughter. Her mom (my daughter) was with us, very much supervising what she was choosing, as I was. This comment, though, is about her reading comprehension.

Just as school started the other day, she lost a tooth one day and a second tooth the next day and now looks very snaggle-toothed. She had a book with her during lunch together, which I (as a former bookstore owner and once-upon-a-time assistant librarian) allowed her to read to me. She does quite well on about the fifth-grade level and has long since finished with the beginning reader, Junie B. Jones, and Amelia Bedelia books.

Nevertheless, she wouldn't have a clue about what's going on in Weetzie Bat, if I understand the content correctly from what you have said. I'm sure that, at this point, she could sound out ANY word, but knowing the word's meaning is something else entirely.

Dana, I agree with you that many books today seem to glorify sex and violence and other things I would not want children reading. With my own three children, however, I learned that my books could sit for YEARS in plain sight on our shelves without provoking the least bit of interest ... until the children were ready. Because a book was always "there" on the shelf, they knew they were free to discuss it with me when their interest eventually turned in that direction. I tried to answer their questions as honestly as I could . when . they . were . ready. It worked for me.

valentina said...

I have enjoyed the book very much and i thought that the label "young adult" was too restrictive and maybe inappropriate, depending on what you consider to be young adult. 17/18 and even 19 years old teenager are still consider young adult and they're maybe the rightful target for this book. Your children shouldn't be capable of reading it because YOU as a parent should be there just to avoid it, just like any other parent should do. If by any chance a child happens to read it, it's not the author's fault but only the parent's. This said, I honestly didn't perceive the "date rape" as such. It was just a bad decision, but it was hers, as far as I remember. Also, Weetzie's age is not stated, so how do you suppose that she's underage? Yes she is crazy, yes she does things I wouldn't want my kids to be doing, probably.
But I really think that the underlining message is different. And if a kid is old enough to understand what's right and what's wrong, the book could even teach something as important as the acceptance of homosexuality.