Love in the Time of Global Warming, a short novel by Francesa Lia Block, author of the controversial Dangerous Angels (Weetzie Bat) series for teens, has almost nothing to do with global warming. But it has everything to do with a teenage girl whose world has lost its shape and whose idea of love has yet to take shape. The dystopian world in which she lives is in the same jumble as her emotions, and it takes an epic road trip to clarify who she is and what’s important. For the adult reader familiar with the literary references to Homer’s Odyssey, it’s a fun way to pass a weekend. For the young adult reader, it’s a typical fantasy with LGBT overtones that a daring high school lit teacher could use as a companion to the classic story.
The narrative concerns Pen, short for Penelope, a geeky, art-loving, wisp of a girl whose mother, father, and little brother are feared dead after an enormous earthquake and follow-on tsunami that destroys Los Angeles and points inland. Pen likes nothing better than to immerse herself in the fantasies of the classical age, and her life soon mirrors Odysseus’ voyage from shipwreck to Ithaca. Sent on a journey in a VW bus that burns vegetable oil, Pen meets up with the requisite crew of other teenage misfits. They encounter their share of mythical creatures and magical humans, all straight from Homer, including 21st-century versions of Cyclops, Circe the witch, the Sirens, and the drugged-out Lotus Eaters.
Starting with Weetzie Bat No. 1, published in 1989, Block earned a reputation as a writer for young adults who pushes the outside the envelope on touchy issues, such as homosexuality, drug use, and non-traditional families. Love in the Time of Global Warming explores these coming-of-age themes, adding that our preferences in art and literature shape or reflect our worldview as well. Block has taken the Homeric epic and turned it into a lens through which Pen sees the world, not too far different from how Don Quixote sees windmills as threatening giants.
Block adds a modern spin to Homer: Unlike Odysseus’s wife Penelope, who waited 20 years for her missing husband’s return, Pen answers the call to adventure with a search for her lost family. But the Hollywood imagery at the end leaves the experienced reader cold, despite a good attempt at giving an old story new life.
Did you read the Weetzie Bat series? What did you think?