I read Francesca Lia Block’s Dangerous Angels (the collected Weetzie Bat books) when I was about 17. My best friend Monica gave it to me, and that book changed my life. It’s the first place, after Ellen, that I encountered any openly gay people. I grew up in southern Idaho, which is just about the reddest part of one of the reddest states in the country, and to see major gay characters, characters portrayed in a positive light, as though their lives are the most natural thing, just another way of living, was so powerful. Couple that with Block’s beautiful magical realism, and I have a book that has stayed with me and book to which I return every year or so, a book that is a marvel of beauty.
I bring it up here because when I first started My Tiki Girl, a novel about a young girl, Maggie, and her magical friend Dahlia, I thought I was seeing the second coming of Dangerous Angels. When Maggie was in 8th grade, she was involved in a car accident which left her with a damaged leg and which killed her mother. Maggie’s life BTA (before the accident) was one of carefree popularity. In her life ATA (after the accident), she is a freak and a loner. So when she meets the equally freaky Dahlia, Dahlia’s sensitive younger brother Jonah and her irrepressible mother Leah, Maggie thinks maybe she’s found a place and a family where she can truly be herself. She loves the creative spontaneity of Dahlia’s family. They visit a graveyard and have a tea party with the dead on Halloween. They stay up late telling stories and dancing. And Maggie finds herself falling in love with the bright and shining Dahlia.
But what Maggie first takes for irrepressible and shiny and wondrous is cover for a mother with schizophrenia; Dahlia’s bright shining personality is a cover for a girl who desperately wants to fit in, to be admired and to be taken care of. When Dahlia and Maggie’s relationship is exposed and they become the stuff of malicious high school gossip, their carefully constructed fantasy of a light and perfect world crumbles.
By the time you reach the e
nd of Maggie’s story, you desperately wish she could have found a place with Weetzie Bat and Dirk and the crew. However, though there isn’t a simple happily ever after for Maggie or Dahlia or the others, the story ends with the hope. Though the characters suffered as they tried to figure out just who they were and where they belonged in their world, McMahon lets the reader glimpse a little light and the promise of some joy at the end of their tunnel.
Debra Touchette is an assistant librarian, grad student, fledgling blogger and wanna-be teacher. She blogs about her reading at Library Lass: Adventures in Reading, and is @threelefthands on Twitter (but mostly just to see what shenanigans @maureenjohnson and @realjohngreen are up to).