Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block Book Review

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Penelope (Pen) has lost everything—her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother. After the great earthshaker, Pen leaves home in search of her family. What she finds instead are giants and witches, love and enemies. 

I am a huge fan of the hero's journey. From the early stories of The Iliad and Odyssey, to the more modern stories of Star Wars to Harry Potter. Joseph Campbell said, “Every myth is psychologically symbolic. Its narratives and images are to be read, therefore, not literally, but as metaphors.” It is unclear to me as to whether Block was either so wrapped up in The Odyssey metaphor that she became bogged down in it, or that she simply didn't understand the metaphor and let it run away with her.

The story also couldn't decide what it was. Was it a post-apocalyptic thriller? Fantasy? Myth? Metaphor? One thing it was not, this was not a story about Global Warming, in fact the title is completely misleading considering that the devastating earthquake had nothing to do with global warming. The basic idea is this, Pen, after huddling in her ravaged home for two months, leaves when a group of bandits shows up. She "steals" (is given the keys to) a van and travels aimlessly throughout Los Angeles searching for her family. Here she discovers that her life is literally following the tale of The Odyssey complete with giants, witches, sirens, and everything else in-between. 

This is, of course, where the confusion lies. Although this takes place in LA, there are witches and supernatural powers, weird orange butterflies, and nothing that seems like anything from our world. Apparently Pen has never even heard of the word earthquake, since she insists on calling it the earthshaker. Despite living in a modern world, she and her mother apparently don't know what a camera is either. As if following the exact same story line of The Odyssey wasn't a strange enough coincidence, Pen also has this weird way of running into other teenagers. No adults in this ravaged LA, apparently they have all been killed or just left. Just teenagers. And not just any teenagers. Pen has the extraordinary luck of running into three other teens who, like her, all happen to be LBGTQ. I have nothing against such characters, but it just added to the identity crisis this book seemed to be having.

As another reviewer put it so nicely, "Not only does Love in the Time of Global Warming feature not one but four protagonists who rely on Homer's original tale to guide them through the post-apocalypse--in essence, an allegory of The Odyssey that also features The Odyssey as a main driver of the plot, which is simply ridiculous--but the similar characters and plot-points are not so much alluded to as copied outright, with updates that are supposed to modernize the story doing little more than reducing one chapter after another into helpless parody. The Lotus-Eaters who populated an island of drug-fueled laziness in Homer's tale are now lotus-eaters who populate a hotel of drug-fueled laziness in Block's. Circe, the seductress who transformed Odysseus' men into slobbering pigs, is now a failed TV star who has one "minion," a teenage boy she brainwashes with pastries and keeps in a collar. And the cyclops who terrorized Odysseus and his men are still cyclopes, only now they're genetic mutants who supposedly cause earthquakes."

Block knows how to make beautiful prose, but beautiful lines can't save a story that, at its core, is having a serious identity crisis. I don't mind rehashes of classics, but the author must make the story their own. One mention of The Odyssey would have been fine, but using the book as a road map, quite literally, and then ignoring it even after realizing that they are living the story, just annoyed me. There was so much that could have been done with this, as it stands, it isn't a good allegory, dystopian sci-fi, or fantasy.