… Or it’s as close as I’ve ever gotten.
Let’s start at the beginning. Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block is a dystopian sci-fi story—which is actually quite light on the sci-fi and heavier on literary magical realism, in my opinion, but I’ll get to that in a minute. We follow a teenage girl, Pen, on her quest to find her family through the American Southwest, which has been devastated by a giant earthquake and tsunami. During the course of her journey, Pen picks up a rag-tag group of friends and they have to battle monsters and mesmerizers, which mimic the obstacles the hero had to face in Homer’s Odyssey. And the best part—all the kids are queer and have superpowers!
Spoilers after the jump!
The reason why I think this book is closer to magical realism than sci-fi is that not that many things that happen are actually explained. Block writes in a way that maintains a sort of mystical/mythical aura throughout the whole book. There are giants roaming the earth and teenagers with superpowers that can stop waves and crumbling buildings or see into people’s pasts. We never find out why these teenagers survived the apocalyptic earthquake or where their superpowers come from, although funnily enough, the earthquake itself and the giants are explained, at least somewhat. The giants were the result of mysterious underground genetic experiments of unknown purpose and they actually caused the earthquake, but it remains unclear how exactly they did it.
This is one of my favorite things about this book, but it may also be one of its main flaws, depending on your preferences and point of view. It isn’t your typical dystopian sci-fi, showing teenagers surviving and fighting a corrupt society. In fact, Love in the Time of Global Warming is set right after society as we know it has crumbled, but a new one hasn’t been built yet. The book doesn’t give a clear explanation of what’s going on, and there are no expository passages explaining the rules of the “new world”. Pen is stumbling along, just trying to get to her family; she has very little time to stop and think about her and her friends’ superpowers. Looking at people and seeing their pasts is just something she can do and she doesn’t understand it. But maybe she doesn’t need to. As someone who enjoys literary magical realism (Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, that sort of thing), I love that Block doesn’t give us all the answers and lets us simply experience the magical mixed with the mundane world. While I sometimes crave answers in my reading—I was desperate to know everything when I was reading Divergent and The Hunger Games, for example—I also really enjoy stories that let you fill in the blanks.
My other favorite thing about the book is, of course, the queer characters. There are four of them and they make up the main cast. Pen, our heroine, is bi and we get glimpses into her memories of her falling in love with her best friend Moira. Later, Pen meets and falls in love with Hex, a dreamy lost boy, who turns out to be trans. Unfortunately, his portrayal does have a few instances that made me cringe, given that Block isn’t trans herself, especially juxtaposing Hex’s life before and after transition and repeatedly referring to it as “I am not what I once was”. It just sounds too close to “He was born female and later turned into a man”. Other than that, however, Hex being trans isn’t an issue and his gender is never questioned by any of the characters. As Pen and Hex travel along, they pick up two gay boys, Ezra and Ash. They all have some unexplained and more or less well-developed superpowers, which help them survive. The only slightly annoying thing about this cast is that they’re all conveniently paired up, but even that I can sort of understand—in a post-apocalyptic wasteland I would just want someone to hold onto as well. And it’s still amazing to have an all-queer cast in a novel that’s not about being queer.
Speaking of convenient, a lot of things in this book happen in a very opportune and timely manner, which, after a while, gets a little annoying. Pen just stumbles upon her three friends, a man (who is actually her birth father) comes out of nowhere to help her, Pen’s ability to see into people’s pasts always seems to extract the relevant information (and that information often includes clues as to their sexual and gender identities). I mean, you always expect a certain number of things happening conveniently because, after all, that’s what helps drive the plot along, but after a while the story starts to seem contrived.
All in all, Love in the Time of Global Warming is a unique and enjoyable dystopian novel, foregoing exposition and explanations in order to create a scary somewhat delirious and mystical atmosphere. And if that’s not your thing, it has an all-queer main cast of teenagers with unexplained superpowers. I believe it’s worth checking out solely for that.