Thursday, August 6, 2009

Baby Be-Bop

Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop is one of the book's objected to by the WBC4SL. More infamously, the self-styled "Christian" Civil Liberties Union has claimed that the mere display of this book caused emotional harm to their elderly members. They requested the Library's copy of the book be turned over to them so they can burn it.

Baby Be-Bop is about an adolescent named Dirk who is struggling with a growing awareness of his same-sex attraction. It's a short story of self-doubt and dignity, about the bittersweet risks and rewards of falling in love, of secrecy and self-acceptance, of the high cost of hiding one's true self from the world, and the value of being true to one's self.

The author's language is flowery, perhaps too much so for some readers, but many will find it literally delicious to read. Block has an unusual ability to use words to evoke memories by means of colors, textures, scents, and tastes. As an example, consider a passage describing Dirk's upbringing by his grandmother Fifi:

Fifi and Dirk put flower nectar or a mixture of honey and water on their fingertips and the newborn butterflies crawled onto them, all ticklish, and practiced fanning wings that were like amber stained glass in the sun. In the garden there were also little butterflies that looked like petals blown from the roses with the almond scent. There were peaches with pits that also smelled and looked like almonds when you cracked them open. Fifi showed Dirk how to pinch the honeysuckle blossoms that grew over the back gate so that sweet drops fell onto his tongue. She showed him how to pinch the snapdragons' jaws to make them sing. (pp. 6-7)

Trying to keep his secret, Dirk starts down a path of self-hatred that leads to his being beaten up. In the delirium that follows, he meets some of his own ancestors, who guide him into a more positive, self-accepting perspective. And this is what some find so objectionable. It isn't the very slight use of strong language, or the two pages out of 106 that explore the risks of random sexual encounters. It's that the book is ultimately affirming of self-acceptance for gay men. As Dirk's great-grandmother tells him in his dream-hallucination, "any love that's love is right" (p. 66).

When I decided to write a review of Baby Be-Bop, I planned to express rage at the CCLU. After reading the book, I can't find my anger. The idea of destroying a copy of this book is just . . . Sad.


  1. Thank you for writing this. The WBCFSL and the CCLU challenges to the library have become a sort of mourning process for me. First I couldn't believe it, then I was angry, now I am simply sad and resigned. The idea that it is better for our children to be denied literature than for us to be active parents and help them make good choices is unfathomable to me. Unfortunately, it appears that WBCFSL will continue this crusade without thought or care for the children they claim to be protecting.

  2. Thanks for a profound post - indeed, the unfounded objections to this literature are very sad. Keep up the great work!