Love in the Time of Global Warming
by Francesca Lia Block
Henry Holt, 2013; 240 pp
Reviewed by Megan Turner
“Ash swirls in the air and the landscape is gray rubble that falls away into the sea. They kept saying global warming wasn’t going to be the end of us, that it was just threats from the fanatics, that we didn’t have to make changes. But every year there were more earthquakes and floods and hurricanes and fires—every element expressing the earth’s imbalance. Every year the temperatures soared and the ice melted and no one did anything. My pink house—no longer mine—stands on the edge of nowhere like a rose in Salvador Dalí surrealist desert landscape.”
Loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey, Francesca Lia Block’s Love in the Time of Global Warming often moves more in terms of language than plot. The novel follows Penelope (“Pen”), who survives a catastrophic event referred to as the “Earth Shaker,” only to find herself alone, without resources, and wandering the deserted streets of L.A.
In some ways, the novel is action packed, revolving around Pen and her search for her missing mother and brother, Venice. While on her journey, Pen blinds a Giant named Bull; is tempted by lotus flowers; escapes the beautiful Sirens and a witch, Beatrix; and finds friends Hex, Ez, and Ash, each of whom is gifted in one way or another. As the three join Pen on her odyssey, two simultaneous love stories develop, one between Hex and Pen, and the other between and Ez and Ash.
Perhaps, all this is too much for such a slender book. While reading, one wonders if the references to The Odyssey are too blatant. Block includes direct passages from the book and even has her characters remark on these passages:
“As Ash continues to play softly, Hex reads a chapter from The Odyssey to us. It’s the part where Odysseus ventures to the Underworld and consults with the blind prophet Tiresias who had lived seven years as a woman,” Block writes. She then continues, “The quote both frightens and reassures me. If we really are on a modern-day odyssey, as the parallels with the book seem to confirm, we may have the hope of returning ‘home’ as Odysseus did.”
As blatant as these references are, one wonders if these passages will indeed interest teen readers in Greek mythology, which is so heavily entwined with the novel’s plot and characters.
Love in the Time of Global Warming also involves itself in discussions of gender identity and same-sex relationships as well as underlying concerns related to global warming and catastrophe. Despite carrying such a heavy load, this novel does well in taking risks, asking tough questions of its YA audience, questions often ignored in the realm of commercial, adult fiction. Certainly, teenagers should be asked these questions. In this way, the novel exists as a mechanism to begin this discourse.
Love in the Time of Global Warming is an unusual read. Like many other YA novels, it projects a dystopian future, and yet the language and general turn of events make the novel distinct for its genre. The story also sets itself up for a sequel—one which now can be found in The Island of Excess Love, published August 2014.