Welcome to the Bank of the Apocalypse, the pile of bones and rubble, inhabited by giants, where our story begins. It is a strange place to begin this story, though it forshadows the magic and myth-turned-reality to come in Francesca Lia Block’s 2013 young adult apocalypse Love in the Time of Global Warming.
An earthquake brings on floods and disaster—the end of Los Angeles and maybe the world. Few survive, and those who do find they have gained supernatural powers. In this unrecognizably changed world a group of queer teens struggle to survive while searching for our narrator Penelope’s family and battling their way through ruins, past sirens and witches, and with giants.
Love in the Time of Global Warming is not coy about its connection to Homer’s Odyssey, and when sexy, androgenous Hex reads his copy aloud to his companions, the teens find the eerie parellels between it and their own journey disconcerting. Passages from the Odyssey are quoted frequently, and the protagonists openly acknowlegde that “The Odyssey is our guide.” (82)
Too heavy-handed? I asked myself while reading. Nah. As someone who hasn’t read the Odyssey for over ten years, this was the only way I was going to get the references. For teens who might not have gotten to it yet in high school English, it is an intriguing introduction. Maybe a little too obviously interested in getting teen readers to check it out, but still, sympathetically, decidedly, not-at-all snobby. By the end of the novel I was ready to get a copy of the Odyssey and start re-reading, so success! Block also does well as in avoiding some of the Odyssey‘s flaws as she works through this retelling, as Pen does sometimes herself to entertain her friends:
“Sometimes I made Odysseus, Aeneas, and Achilles into heroines instead. My friends liked that twist, though it wasn’t always easy for me to do since the original stories were so male-oriented, the women in them so often so passive or cruel.” (17)
Though I’ve been meaning to read Block’s Weetzie Bat books for years, this was my first Block book, and I could immediately see why she is so popular. The prose is smooth and easy to read, but not without intellectual nuance, and it gives anything but a hetero-exclusive view of the world. There’s commentary on global warming and science, on queerness, intolerance, and bigotry, on family problems, friendship, art, and there are more than three cheers for the magical power of love (how Block manages to do that without becoming overtly cheesey is a win in itself).
As I’ve come to expect in post-apocalyptic literature, the characters, specifically Pen, do a good deal of hand wringing about the state of their souls. If they become killers in this new world out of necessity, are they still human? How necessary is necessary? Who are they in a world that requires such different things from them than the soft, safe place where they grew up?
“Learn how to kill? Not me. It’s not something I can do. I was raised in a peaceful home.
“‘But not in a peaceful world,’ Hex says when I try to object. ‘It wasn’t even Then.”
“And I do know what it’s like to be angry. I used to get so angry at Congress and the banks, the bankers fighting with my father on the phone, the racists and homophobes on TV, the slaughter of animals, the poisoning of the water and the air, the burned through ozone, the refusal to legislate on behalf of the helpless planet. Sometimes I’d take that anger out on my mom and my brother, the people I loved most. But Then, during Then, I never picked up a weapon; I never harmed anyone, not even bugs. Did that mean I couldn’t learn about killing, that I couldn’t find it in me?” (149).
Though Block uses the apocalypse as an opening to discuss many current issues, its real purpose in this novel is to create an opening for magic, for an odyssey like the Odyssey. And magic creates an opening for love, the most powerful magic of all.
“‘Is it magic?’
“‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Real magic. Life.'” (229)
The sequel, The Island of Excess Love, which uses Virigl’s Aeneid as a guide, was published in August 2014.
Four out of five cloning experiments.
Where I got it: Local book store