Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review Club: Baby Be-bop

Barrie Summy's book review club review is about the only regular blogging I'm doing these days, so I'm glad for her monthly reminders. This month's review is of BABY BE-BOP by Francesca Lia Block, a Young Adult novel.

This summer I heard that a group wanted the book banned from a public library for its gay theme, so I thought I'd see what the fuss was about.

Baby Be-bop is a story of a teenage boy, Dirk, who knows early on that he's gay, but is afraid to let anyone know, including his beloved grandmother, Fifi, who has raised him. He's afraid of disappointing her. He finds a friend in a free-spirited boy named Pup, and for a while they are best friends, and Dirk hopes, possibly more, until Pup starts seeing a girl. Finally, Pup admits that he loves Dirk but can't deal with the consequences and they part. The book evidently takes place in the 1980's because after Pup's rejection, Dirk becomes a punk rocker. One night he makes the mistake of insulting a skinhead and gets beaten up. He manages to make his way home and into bed, but he's badly injured. That night he has dreams or is visited by the ghosts of his grandmother and his parents, though it's not terribly clear if it's a dream or a near death experience. In one of his dreams we learn that Dirk's dad was a beat poet nicknamed Be-bop which is where the Baby Be-bop title comes from. There's also a section about a gay boy named Duck, who I assume will be Dirk's partner at some point in the future. In the end Dirk awakens in the hospital with his grandmother by his side.

There is some underage drinking and drug use and allusions to gay sex, but the book is hardly graphic. It's really a coming of age story, and Dirk is a sympathetic protagonist. As a librarian, I'm never in favor of book banning, and I think there is a place in public libraries for Baby Be-bop. In fact, that's where I found the book! It's apparently out-of-print except as part of an anthology called Beautiful Boys: Two Weetzie Bat Books, which is available new at Amazon in a library edition or as a Kindle e-book.

Block's language is lush and often poetic, though at times I thought it was a little overdone, maybe because I'm more a fan of popular than literary fiction. Dirk is, apparently, a character in her other books in the Weetzie Bat series, and this is his back story. It's a short book and a fast read. I found the story interesting and well-written, but I'm not sure I want to read her other books. I'm just not that into young adult angst. I would recommend it to YA fans though.

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