Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Love in the Time of Global Warming
Francesca Lia Block

Henry Holt & Co.
Released August 27, 2013
240 pages
YA / Dystopian / Fantasy

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Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

Francesca Lia Block and I have a history. She wouldn’t know me if I walked up to her and poked her in the arm, but I have an irrational feeling like I know her. I clung to her Weetzie Bat books as a teenager, going back to them over and over again. They were unlike anything I had ever experienced and none of my friends knew who she was. It was like she was my secret friend, who understood my misfit-ness and could wrap me up in techno-color dreams on the darkest of days.

It’s been a decade since I last picked up one of Block’s books, and I’m no longer in that bleak state of teenagerdom, so I wasn’t sure how Block’s latest series would work for me. I’m a little ashamed that I doubted my secret friend because reading Love in the Time of Global Warming was like coming home after being gone for far too long. It is the same trippy gorgeous weirdness of her previous books wrapped around a solid plot and a leading lady that finds all this hidden strength deep inside of her when the world literally falls apart around her.

Love in the Time of Global Warming is very loosely framed around the events in The Odyssey, a fact that is happily embraced within the narrative itself as one of the supporting characters likes to read passages from it at key moments. It opens at the beginning or nearly the beginning, leaving behind an instant unsettling feeling that things are not right and a general “what the fuck”ness that Block is so wonderful at creating. Penelope wakes up in the middle of the night to experience her world crumbling around her. What she later dubs as the Earth Shaker raises monstrous waves that demolish her home town of Los Angeles. The waves sweep away her parents and younger brother while the effects of the earthquake knock Penelope unconscious. When she wakes up, she’s alone with a river running past her front door and the neighboring homes washed away.

What follows is an adventure story, where Pen collects a ragged band of supporting characters to help her find her family. She crosses paths with giants, a magical flower that provides a potent drug to forget your problems, a mystical teenage seer, and additional horrors as she and her friends go on a road trip. This is not your average end-of-the-world type of story and these aren’t your average group of plucky teenagers trying to save what remains.

Block has created a diverse group of characters of different races, gender identities and sexual orientations. It’s incredibly refreshing to have a cast that is made up of people difficult to find represented in other mainstream YA novels (or in mainstream media at large, unfortunately). Rather than be characterized by their differences, Pen, Hex and her friends are fully developed characters with histories and motivations. Considering the book is only 240 short pages and several characters are introduced late in the game, this is just another example of Block’s masterful grasp of writing lyrical prose that doesn’t waste a single word.

I feel like I could gush about this book for quite some time. Francesca Lia Block is a magician and the written word is her wand. Even in a bleak world, she fills her characters with beauty. In the most hopeless moments, Pen’s strength of character and will never made me feel like a deus ex machina would have to pop out of nowhere to save the day. The ending ties up nicely, though there are still deep wells of story left to be explored. Love in the Time of Global Warming is full of magic and love and sacrifice that I didn’t want it to end. I am so eager to get lost in Block’s world again and I won’t wait a decade to revisit my secret friend.

 

I think I received a temporary e-ARC of this book before it came out last year, but I read a finished copy from my local library that I kind of want to steal now.