Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Baby Be-Bop, by Francesca Lia Block

Title:  Baby Be-Bop
Author:  Francesca Lia Block
Publisher:  Harper Teen
Pages:  112
Genre:  Fantasy/Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  10th Grade and Up

Plot Summary:
Dirk is 15.  He lives in Los Angeles with his grandmother Fifi.  Ever since he could remember, Dirk knew he was not like other boys.  He knew that other boys dreamed of kissing girls-but Dirk dreamed of kissing other boys.  He keeps this secret about himself hidden away from everyone, including his beloved grandmother.  All of that changes when he meets Pup, the new boy at school.  Through his friendship with (and crush on) Pup, he soon learns that denying who you are can have devastating consequences.  Throwing himself into the punk scene in the 80s, Dirk finally runs up against some young men who are only too happy to express their hatred of him through their fists-a hatred about himself that he shares.  In a coma, Dirk sees visions of his dead family, who teach him through their stories that accepting yourself is the only way to make it in the world.

Baby Be-Bop is an unusual coming of age story.  Mixing elements of fantasy with the all too realistic story of a young gay man full of self-hatred, Block gives the reader an insight into what costs we pay for denying our true selves.  Block shows the rage and frustration of so many youth in her use of the punk rock movement and the beat poetry movement.  Dirk finds freedom in listening to ear-blistering music, and slam dancing until he feels no more pain, or emptiness, but numbness.  Baby Be-Bop is a prequel, of sorts, for Block's book Weetzie Bat, in which Dirk and his partner Duck play a role.  Duck is introduced at the end of this book, when his coma-visions show him a glimpse of the future that can be.  It takes what was a rather tragic story and transforms it into a story of hope.

Block's writing style is beautiful.  Her language is lyrical and flowing, with descriptions of Fifi's house and yard, and the places in LA that Dirk and Pup visit that create a sense of magic.  While this is a short novel, it uses rich language that begs you to go back and re-read certain passages.  There is a lot of depth for such a slim volume.  It's quirky and poetic and, in the end, full of promise for what Dirk's life can become.

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