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Here is my analysis of Francesca Lia Block’s novel Weetzie Bat.  This is an excerpt of an assignment I completed for my Books & Materials for Young Adults class. 

Caveat Lector: SPOILER ALERT!

Weetzie Bat Analysis

            Francesca Lia Block styled her novel Weetzie Bat in the form of an urban fairy tale, but the challenges her teen protagonists face are very real.  Weetzie’s traditional family is broken, but she takes action to create a nontraditional family that can withstand the shocks and jolts of life.  In spite of the playful language, funny names and magical setting, Block explores a number of thorny issues, including divorce, substance abuse and death.  Nonetheless, Weetzie and her friends face these challenges with the stoic bravery of fairy tale heroes and fight for their happy ending.

            Block’s novel tells the story of Weetzie Bat, her friend Dirk, his significant other Duck, and Weetzie’s significant other My Secret Agent Lover Man.  The novel begins with friends Weetzie and Dirk, who want happy, lasting relationships but seem to be dating all the wrong boys.  Dirk’s grandmother Fifi gives Weetzie a golden lamp that happens to contain a genie (1998, 17-18).  Weetzie wishes for a Duck for Dirk, My Secret Agent Lover Man for herself, and a house in which they can live happily ever after (19).  One by one, Weetzie’s wishes begin to come true.  Dirk falls in love with a man named Duck (22), Weetzie falls in love with a man named My Secret Agent Lover Man (26), and Fifi dies and leaves her house to Dirk and Weetzie (20).  They all move in together, but everyone does not live happily ever, at least not immediately.  Weetzie wants a baby, but My Secret Agent Lover Man does not (33).  Weetzie, Dirk and Duck decide to have a baby together, but when My Secret Agent Lover Man finds out Weetzie is pregnant, he gets angry and leaves (38).  My Secret Agent Lover Man comes back after the baby is born, but Weetzie’s nontraditional family faces a series of other crises: a witch’s curse, a witch baby, Weetzie’s father’s death, and Duck’s disappearance.  By the end of the book, the witch’s curse is broken, the witch baby is integrated into the family, and Duck is found again.  Block implies that this family may not live happily ever after, but that they can choose to live happily, nonetheless.

            The plot and style of Block’s novel present the story in the form of a fairy tale.  The characters face a series of challenges and conflicts that become steadily more difficult to manage, some of which are magical and some of which are realistic.  Nilsen and Donelson categorize Weetzie Bat as a realistic spoof (2009, 24), while Block describes her books as “urban fairy tales” (2009, 82).  The magical elements of the story, the genie (1998, 18) and the witch’s curse (43), provide a lens of whimsy and fantasy through which to view real problems.  Finding and maintaining healthy relationships, finding a place to live, coping with the death of caregivers, and coping with the repercussions of infidelity all represent real problems that young adults face.  The adults are largely absent from the plot, leaving the young adults to struggle through these challenges with only their friends for support.  Weetzie’s father Charlie and Dirk’s grandmother Fifi make brief appearances, like fairy godparents, to leave the youth a house or drop a word of advice.  Block does not allow her characters to dwell on the deaths of Fifi and Charles for long, but keeps the action of the story moving at a steady clip.  This stylistic feature reflects the perspective of many young adults, who live in the now and maintain a forward-looking focus.  Ultimately, Weetzie and her friends must make their own choices and be the architects of their own happiness.

            Weetzie’s story unfolds in the integral setting of Los Angeles, with punk culture and Hollywood lending a surreal and magical element to the atmosphere.  Weetzie finds L.A. and Venice exciting, colorful and larger than life, which supports the fairy tale atmosphere of the story.  She hated high school because none of her peers seemed to appreciate the magic of L.A., except for Dirk (3).  To Weetzie, the fantasy land of L.A. seems like an ideal place to build her fantasy family.  But Charlie cannot embrace the fantasy of L.A., because it reminds him of Weetzie’s mother, Brandy-Lynn.  Charlie says that everything in L.A. is “illusion, imitation, a mirage.  Pagodas and palaces and skies, blondes and stars…  It’s like having a good dream.  You know you are going to wake up” (58).  Weetzie and Charlie’s different perceptions of L.A. highlight the idealism of teens and the jaded pragmatism of adults.  Weetzie and her friends learn that darkness sometimes lurks beneath the brightly-colored façade of life, but Weetzie accepts the darkness with the light and does not allow herself to feel cheated by appearances.

            As is typical in young adult literature, the primary protagonists are all young adults, although we are never given definite ages.  Weetzie and Dirk are in high school at the opening of the book (3), but Block does not clearly state how much time passes in the course of the story.  This detail also supports the dreamlike, fairy tale quality of the story.  Weetzie makes her own clothes, and Dirk and Weetzie both experiment with outfits, accessories and make-up (4-5) because they are still trying to invent themselves.  Duck is “a small, blonde surfer” with freckles on his nose, and Duck and Dirk fall in love at first sight (22).  Duck’s character is less developed at the beginning of the story: Block only explains that he goes to the beach everyday, and sometimes sleeps at the beach in order to catch the “most radical waves” at dawn (22).  However, Duck’s character is revealed more at the end of the story when Duck runs away.  Duck is frightened by his friend’s illness (63) and tries to hide from his fear among the distractions of the San Francisco club scene (67).  But Dirk finds Duck and helps him recommit to life despite his fear (67-69).  My Secret Agent Lover Man wears “a slouchy hat and a trench coat” (27), and makes movies like Weetzie’s father.  Weetzie’s love for her father is mirrored in her love for My Secret Agent Lover Man.  Weetzie’s parents are supporting characters who actually provide very little support or guidance in Weetzie’s life.  Charlie and Brandy-Lynn have been broken by their relationship, and they serve as foils for Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man, and for Dirk and Duck.  Weetzie and her friends refuse to give up on their love for each other.

            Weetzie Bat is written in a romantic mode, with instances of irony and comedy thrown into the mix.  Protagonists Weetzie and Dirk must run the gauntlet of looking for love in L.A.’s punk scene, but divine intervention in the form of a genie rewards their efforts with true love.  Yet, while traditional romances ended with the hero finding true love, Block’s characters find love early in the story and must struggle to hold onto it.  Weetzie and her friends support each other through relationship problems, grief and fear of death, and their compassion and loyalty helps them hold their unique family together.  Elements of comedy include Weetzie’s reaction to the genie (18) and the rubber chicken incident (6).  Irony is embodied in the character of Weetzie’s mother, who is incapable of fulfilling her parental role and must instead be mothered by Weetzie (61).  Brandy-Lynn and Charlie love each other, but they seem unable or unwilling to make their relationship work.  But irony cannot suppress the power of love in this story.  According to the romantic model, Weetzie and her friends are rewarded with happiness and love at the end of the story. 

            Block’s tone evidences sincere affection for her characters and a desire for them to be happy and hopeful.  Block’s use of unusual names for her characters and their pets contributes to the sense of humor and whimsy in the story.  Her characters are unlike any characters in any other book, and their names reflect their unique identities.  Weetzie and her friends face serious difficulties in the course of the story, including divorce, death, infidelity, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases.  Yet Block arms her characters with unquenchable optimism, and demonstrates that life can go on in spite of tragedy if the characters hold fast to their loved ones.

           The primary themes in Weetzie Bat include families and empowering the disenfranchised, with secondary themes of substance abuse and death.  Weetzie dresses in a feathered headdress and fringed clothing, explaining that she empathizes with the plight of the Native Americans (4).  As a young adult, Weetzie identifies with the Native Americans because of their disenfranchisement.  Teens do not possess the power and respect that adults command, although Weetzie seems mostly unfettered by her parents and left to her own devices.  At least, Block provides no evidence that Weetzie’s parents try to stop her from drinking and sleeping around.  Weetzie wishes that her parents’ romance had lasted (14), and feels powerless to reunite her broken family.  Therefore, Weetzie tries to take command of her happiness by making her magic wishes for true love, a home and a happily ever after (19).  While her parents wallow in passive regret, Weetzie rejects feelings of powerlessness and takes an active role in building a happy family for herself.

          Weetzie comes from a broken family with divorced parents, and Dirk’s parents are dead before the story begins.  Dirk lives with his grandmother, Fifi, who also dies early in the story (20).  Weetzie’s mother is emotionally absent, and while Weetzie’s father is emotionally invested in Weetzie, he lives on the opposite coast in New York City (15).  When Charlie dies of a drug overdose (59), Weetzie loses the parent who had the most positive influence on her life.  Weetzie and Dirk seek to create their own family, which, though nontraditional, appears to succeed where Weetzie’s traditional family has failed.  When Weetzie, Dirk and Duck decide to have a baby together, they plan to love the baby “more than any of their parents had ever loved them” (35).  Charlie admits that Weetzie was an accident (14).  Weetzie and her friends set out to prove that families that are made and nurtured with love and care can be successful, no matter what the components of that family may be.  The recurring movie making motif underlines the way in which Weetzie and her friends begin by role-playing in life, trying to find happiness by assuming roles in a reinvented family.

          The theme of the destructive nature of substance abuse is played out in the lives of Weetzie’s parents.  Brandy-Lynn criticizes Charlie for abusing substances while she downs cocktails and says she needs a Valium (15).  The irony of Brandy-Lynn’s behavior implies that some adults do not behave in a logical manner, and their interpretation of reality is skewed.  Block frequently uses the word “fake” to describe elements of Brandy-Lynn’s appearance.  When Charlie first saw her, she had bleach-blonde hair and was “sparkling with fake jewels” (14).  She wears mules with “fake fruit over the toes” (14) and paints her fingernails (15, 58).  These details reinforce the perception that some adults, especially substance abusers, are not trustworthy.

          The lives of Weetzie and her friends are touched repeatedly by death, yet the characters remain remarkably untouched by death at the same time.  Dirk’s grandmother Fifi dies (20), but she leaves Dirk and Weetzie her house, allowing them to start building a family.  Charlie dies of a drug overdose, but Weetzie’s friends support her in her grief (59).  Weetzie responds by trying to mother her mother, and Weetzie and her friends dedicate their latest movie to her father’s memory (61).  Duck is frightened by his friend’s illness, presumably AIDS, and runs away (63).  But Dirk finds him and refuses to let him hide from life or death.  Weetzie and her friends manage to find a happy ending because they respond to each visitation of death by embracing and celebrating life.

          Although some literary critics might identify homosexuality as a theme because of Dirk and Duck’s relationship, I believe that Block treats homosexuality as a nonissue.  Other than Dirk’s initial hesitance to tell Weetzie he is gay (7), the characters do not appear to worry about or struggle with the notion of homosexuality.  Weetzie says Dirk’s sexual orientation “doesn’t matter one bit” (7).  Block does not mention any instances in which Duck or Dirk are persecuted for their orientation.  Homosexual relationships are simply represented as another kind of love, no greater or lesser than heterosexual relationships.

          Weetzie Bat is told from a third-person point of view, but not an omniscient point of view.  The point of view primarily follows Weetzie’s actions, and the reader is granted access to her thoughts.  When Duck runs away, the point of view shifts briefly to follow Dirk’s thoughts and actions, although maintaining the distance of a third-person perspective.  When Dirk and Duck return home, the point of view returns to focus on Weetzie.  This perspective reinforces that Block is telling Weetzie’s story, but Weetzie’s family is not whole unless Dirk, Duck, My Secret Agent Lover Man, Cherokee, Witch Baby, and all the dogs are present and accounted for.  Weetzie Bat is about how Weetzie rejected her powerless role and fought for and won her happy family.

Bibliography

Block, Francesca Lia.  1998.  Weetzie Bat, in Dangerous Angels.  New York: HarperCollins.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Kenneth L. Donelson.  2009.  Literature for Today’s Young Adults. 8th ed.  Boston: Pearson Education.

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Cover Art by Edward Gorey

And now, comics about judging books by their covers!

This article is about a children’s book, Buster’s Sugartime by Marc Brown, that has been challenged in the Union School District in Tulsa.  Luckily the Union school board voted to keep the book on the shelf.  The book includes some children who have same-sex parents.  Dr. Van Fleet posted this on Desire2Learn in our Evaluation Methods class forum, and I shared it on our class Facebook page for Young Adult Services.

The parents challenging the book apparently object to the ALSC core competency to maintain “a diverse collection, recognizing children’s need to see people like and unlike themselves in the materials they access.”   Children living in non-traditional families deserve access to books that reflect their reality, just like every other child.

Imagine removing everything from the library that mentions an illegal activity…  There goes the mystery section…  Whaling is illegal in the Arkansas River, so I guess Moby Dick would be out…

Licenced to Kill…Culture

Is society becoming bound and gagged by overzealous licencing?  Will our culture be hamstrung by copyright?  There’s cause for concern…

Thanks to my friend Catherine Wilson for sending me a link to this article by Lawrence Lessig:

For the Love of Culture: Google, copyright, and our future

One More Round

At long last, I am about to begin my last semester in the OU School of Library & Information Studies!  I’m heavily entrenched in putting my professional portfolio together, so my postings have become somewhat sparse.  In a few weeks I will post a link to my portfolio website so any interested parties can see what I’ve been doing with the last two-and-a-half years of my life.  If all goes as planned, I’ll defend my portfolio in late March and graduate in May. 

Ahh, I’m so close!  Just a little further to go…

On October 12, the Tulsa City-County Library (TCCL) was closed for Columbus Day and held their annual Staff Development Day at the Hardesty Library.  I have been subbing at various TCCL branches when staff are sick or on vacation, so I was invited to attend Staff Development Day.

The schedule for the event was as follows:

8:00 am – Registration and breakfast
8:30 am – Opening Ceremonies
10:00 am – First Breakout Session
11:20 am – Open Booth and Activity Period
12:00 pm – Lunch
2:20 pm – Second Breakout Session
3:40 pm – Closing Ceremonies
5:00 pm – Dismissed

Breakfast was purchased with budgeted funds and catered by Jason’s Deli.  Lunch was underwritten by the Friends of the Library and provided by Arby’s.  A number of valuable classes were offered during the breakout sessions, and staff could receive continuing education credits by attending.  Classes included topics like where and how to enroll in Library & Info Studies Master’s programs, how to provide library programming for teens, disaster preparedness, how to host a murder mystery program at the library, etc.  During the Open Activity Period, library staff toured booths and displays created by other library staff.  In touring the booths, I learned about TCCL’s proposed floating collection, the many responsibilities of the Collection Development Dept., the many nifty features of various Gale online databases, the activities of the TCCL Staff Association, and the resources of the Beryl Ford Memorial and Oklahoma Collection.  In addition, staff could give blood, receive a free health screening, play video games, attend a yoga class or talk an Urban Wildlife Walk during the Open Activity Period.

I thought the catering for this event was well done in terms of set-up and the vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.  Having the Friends help off-set the cost of food was a smart way to leverage resources and keep the event budget down.  The use of Hardesty Library facilities for booths and classes was well-thought-out.  The Staff Development Day guide was very cleverly designed, and the inclusion of maps for event locations, descriptions of events, and an evaluation form made this publication very helpful.  The theme for Staff Development Day was “Everyday Heroes,” and I thought this theme was very well-chosen in the interest of showing staff appreciation.  Staff were given royal blue t-shirts with a modified superman logo on the chest to wear to the event.  A number of staff wore capes, too!  Decorations included various superhero themed items and were very cleverly arranged.  Staff achievement awards were announced during opening and closing ceremonies, and I was very impressed by the number of hard-working and highly creative staff recognized through these awards.  I think this is another great way of showing staff appreciation by publicly recognizing their achievements.

I believe a few elements could have been improved in the organization of this event.  Hardesty Library is in the process of expanding its parking lot due to space shortage, so a lot of parking was blocked off due to construction.  This caused there to be insufficient parking for staff attending the event.  Perhaps efforts could have been made to encourage carpooling or to identify locations for overflow parking ahead of time.  Possibly such efforts were made, and I was simply unaware of them.  Additionally, I heard a lot of feedback from staff attending the event that the Open Activity Session in the middle of the day was too long.  Apparently this large span of free time was provided to allow staff ample time to view all the booths, give blood and do the health screening.  However, those who did not take advantage of the time-consuming health screening were left with too much time and not enough to do.  Perhaps additional optional classes could have been provided during this period. 

Another small issue was that subs like me that work few and sporadic hours were unable to browse and choose from the list of classes posted on the intranet in order to enroll ahead of time.  Thus I really didn’t get to know about all of the opportunities available at the event–only the activities I stumbled into on my own.  Granted, I may have been the only sub who attended, so this was a very isolated problem.  Having a full list of classes that could be emailed to subs like me ahead of time would have been very helpful.  Of course, it’s easy to identify problems like these after the fact.  It’s far more difficult to predict them ahead of time.

All in all I was quite impressed with the organization and promotion of this event.

Ethical Librarianship

In my Community Relations & Advocacy class, we are currently analyzing and discussing ethical dilemmas.  One of the problematic situations is this:

“A parents’ group, concerned with recently publicized accounts of children being stalked in the library by pedophiles, requests that the Children’s Department of the library be off-limits to everyone except children under the age of 12 and their biological parents.”

The moral dilemma of this situation involves the necessity of choice between either protecting child library users from harm or providing equitable access to library resources and upholding the right to read.  We want children to be safe in our libraries, but limiting access to the children’s department to everyone but children under 12 and their biological parents limits access to numerous people with legitimate needs for children’s resources.  Children may be accompanied by grandparents, older siblings, step-parents, foster parents, legal guardians, teachers, day care providers–must these people be denied access?  What if these adults come to the library alone to check out children’s materials for their grandchildren/younger siblings/step-children/students?  What about adults who are learning to read, or mentally challenged adults that can only read and enjoy children’s materials?  What about grad students who want to be children’s librarians and need to study children’s resources?

From the deontological perspective, allowing potentially harmful individuals to come into proximity with children might be considered evil.  Another deontological perspective might be that denying taxpayers access to public resources and curtailing customers’ right to read is evil.

The parents who have proposed restricting the children’s department may be operating from the teleological theory of ethical egoism: restricting adults from the children’s department would best meet their needs and desires.  However, those holding with the teleological theory of utilitarianism would favor the action that guarantees the most good for the most people.  Since most people are not pedophiles, protecting intellectual freedom by allowing equitable access to the children’s department would provide the most good for the most people.

My professional stance is that restricting equitable public access to any library resources purchased with tax dollars is against the ALA code of ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.  Customers who are following library rules cannot be denied access to public resources.  Librarians should not be acting as the Pre-Crime Dept. in Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.  The ALA code of ethics states that librarians will provide equitable service policies and equitable access; librarians will uphold intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources; and librarians will not advance private interests at the expense of library users.  The Library Bill of Rights states that a person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views.  These fundamental principles of librarianship are diametrically opposed to the proposed restriction.

Besides, the proposed restriction is not guaranteed to protect child library users.  Some pedophiles are parents.  Some children molest other children (usually because they have been/are being molested themselves).  Children could be attacked in any area of the library–not just the children’s dept.  Children are more likely to be safe and protected if their parents/guardians supervise them at all times.  To show the parents proposing restriction of the children’s dept. that the library does care about their children’s safety, the library may institute a rule or a strong suggestion that children should be accompanied by parents/guardians at all times.  The library could have a security guard walk through all areas of the library periodically, or if this is not financially feasible, librarians could rove through the library to offer customer assistance and keep their eyes peeled for suspicious behavior.

Another ethical dilemma posed is this:

“When a library customer overhears a librarian waiving the fines and charges of another customer, he asks that his fines also be waived. His request is refused based upon the fact that he has the resources to pay his fines while the first customer did not. The offended customer files a grievance with the Library Board of Trustees, claiming that the collection of fines by the library is arbitrary, subjective, and capricious. He demands that the policy be enforced in an all-or-nothing manner, with all customers held to the same standards.” 

Clearly this is a very difficult ethical situation, and it doesn’t help that we don’t have all the information we need to understand it.  We know that patron 2 overheard the librarian waiving the fines of patron 1.  We know that the librarian refused to waive patron 2’s fines “based upon the fact that he has the resources to pay his fines while the first customer did not,” but we do not know how the librarian determined that patron 2 can afford to pay fines and patron 1 could not.  If the librarian simply made an assumption about the financial status of each patron, clearly this is not right.  But perhaps the librarian knew patron 1 well–perhaps patron 1 is a repeat customer who talks to the librarian often about their life and their difficulty finding a job…  Perhaps the librarian also knew patron 2 well as a repeat customer.  We don’t know.

We do not know exactly what the librarian said to patron 2 about patron 1’s resources.  Obviously if the librarian disclosed anything to patron 2 about patron 1’s financial status, this would be highly unethical and a violation of privacy.  We do not know if the librarian was following a clearly defined library policy for waiving fines in certain circumstances, or if the librarian did not follow policy, or if a policy exists in this hypothetical library, or if the librarian just made an arbitrary decision.

We do not know the amount of each patron’s fines.  We do not know if each customer’s fines are simply for late fees or if either customer is being charged to replace items that were never returned.  Waiving late fees is not a big deal, but waiving replacement fees is more serious.

We can make recommendations about what should have been done in each situation.  Certainly library policies should be in place about when it is proper to waive fines.  Policies should also be in place as to how to deal with irate customers.  If a policy was in place, and the librarian really did have knowledge about the financial status of both customers, and the librarian was following library policy in waiving one customer’s fines and denying the other, then the next appropriate step would be to explain to patron 2 the library’s policy about waiving fines in certain extenuating circumstances.

But here’s a problem: how can you explain to patron 2 that the library waives fines for customers who cannot afford to pay them without disclosing private information about patron 1’s financial status?  Even if you don’t refer specifically to patron 1, by saying that it is the library’s policy to waive late fines for customers who cannot afford to pay, you have revealed private information about patron 1’s financial status.  I don’t have an answer for that one.

If patron 2 is unhappy with the librarian’s explanation of policy, the patron should be given the opportunity to discuss the situation with the manager.  The manager should be able to smooth things over with the customer while the librarian is freed up to continue helping other customers.

If the manager cannot convince the patron of the fairness of the library’s fine-waiving policy, and assuming patron 2’s fines are simply for late books and not replacement of lost books, I think it would be better to waive patron 2’s fines than to allow the situation to continue to escalate and become a nasty PR issue.

My understanding of this sort of situation comes from a public library perspective, so what works in a public library may not work as well in an academic, school or special library.  I know that in the Tulsa City-County Library, fines for late items do not add up to much money, even if you add up all the late fines paid in all 25 branches in a year’s time.  Waiving a fine now and then is not depriving the community of library materials.  However, fine collections might be a lot more important in a smaller library, so this deserves some consideration.  I think there are legitimate reasons for waiving late fees, such as when a customer has lost his or her job and needs to use library resources to find a new job, create a resume, etc. 

Maintaining good customer relations may also be a good reason for waiving fines.  If a mother is going to stop taking her kids to the library because she can’t pay the fine on her card, maybe it would be better to forgive the fine or part of the fine in order to keep the customers?  I once served a very elderly, hard-of-hearing lady who had a 15 cent fine on her card for some late books.  She was adamant that she had returned the books on time.  I figured it was possible that the library made a mistake, and even if we hadn’t, 15 cents is no big deal to the library, but it was clearly a big deal, perhaps a matter of honor, to this lady.  It seemed more important to me to preserve the library’s good relationship with this woman than to wring the 15 cents out of her.  I also didn’t want to potentially damage the reputation of the library by having a loud discussion with this hard-of-hearing lady about such a miniscule amount of money.  We don’t want the library to be seen as wringing the desperately needed social security money out of someone’s little old grandmother.  Certainly customer privacy and the library’s image is at stake when fines must be collected in a public place, and I’m not sure how to resolve this problem.

Maybe fines could be deferred, so that customers who can’t pay now could be allowed to use library resources in the mean time, and asked for payment again in 6 months?  In terms of public libraries which are most needed by those with limited financial resources, I think flexibility is imperative.