Author: Francesca Lia Block
Publication Date: February 4, 2014 (HarperTeen – North America)
Genre: YA, paranormal
Source: Publisher-provided finished copy
Summary: After Julie’s grandmother passes away, she is forced to move across town to the not-so-fancy end of Beverly Hills and start over at a new school. The only silver lining to the perpetual dark cloud that seems to be following her? Clark—a die-hard fan of Buffy and all things Joss Whedon, who is just as awkward and damaged as she is. Her kindred spirit.
When the two try to contact Julie’s grandmother with a Ouija board, they make contact with a different spirit altogether. The real kind. And this ghost will do whatever it takes to come back to the world of the living.
☆: 4/5 stars – a refreshing standalone that harkens back to the days of “Weetzie Bat”.
Review: This one was fun, guys. The writing style and light yet dark feeling to “Teen Spirit” left me with the feeling I first felt when I picked up the “Dangerous Angels/Weetzie Bat series” omnibus when I was 12. I fell in love – though it’s not to say I never fell out of love with my mentor’s writing style. “Teen Spirit” is very similar to “Weetzie” in that sense of light reading, yet heavier (and in this book), somewhat darker content for the reader adjusted for easy digestion. I think a lot of “Weetzie” fans dissatisfied with recent efforts might really like this one. Regardless of where you stand, Block’s newest effort is gorgeous, haunting (no pun intended), and will leave you with a sense of utter peace once you turn that last page.
Since the technical areas in this book were more or less flawless, I’m going to talk more about other issues I found more interesting and relevant than just plain ol’ analysis. Admittedly, I do have a bias when it comes to Block (she is my mentor, after all), but I still loved “Teen Spirit” anyway, for the following main reason:
Block always puts a lot of herself (and her current situations with which she’s trying to deal with in her real life) in her books. Within the last few years, nowhere has it become more apparent than this – “Pink Smog”, “The Elementals”, etc – and I love her for exposing herself so very thoroughly whilst cloaked in her characters and worlds. In the case of “Teen Spirit”, it’s the issue of loss – losing one’s house to bankruptcy, losing a loved one – that’s once again in the spotlight with Block and her characters. Using her current real life issues in YA lit is something important, and something I wish more YA authors did. There have been some that have been candid about their real lives and how that affects their processes (my favorite is still Stephanie Perkins and post about depression), but none have written so candidly about it than Block. And for that, she does a serious service to the YA community.
This book just isn’t about magic. Or ghosts. Or the possibility of a great beyond. It’s about the aftermath – what loss leaves in its path, and those who get caught up in it. It’s the grief of seeing your loved one’s urn of ashes on a table everyday and not knowing if or when they’ll be back. It’s the loss of your home, the one you grew up in, the one that gave you hope that there was still magic and good in the world. It’s the loss of innocence when you change schools, when you fall in love, and when you discover that that love isn’t what it seems. All of these issues get juggled about within the greater umbrella of “loss”, and the rebirth that follows all of that.
There’s a lot of soul searching that goes on in this book. Literally. It’s a lot of heavy subject matter, but Block has mastered her craft (or continues to do so) and makes it so that it doesn’t quite feel so weighty to the audience. It takes a lot of talent and care to be able to do so, but Block has done it, with the help of magical realism. And with Julie and Clark (and another character that I won’t mention due to spoilers), you get to go on this journey with them, to go through that path of loss and see what’s on the other side. Moreover, you get to see why you NEED to go on that journey through one’s loss to the other side. All of this is important in real life, and Block emphasizes this even more in this book.
Otherwise? This book is still fun even with the sad subject matter, and still magical. Block’s still got it, folks, and this book proves it. “Teen Spirit” is out now from HarperTeen in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance. It’s definitely one of my picks of 2014, and for good reason.