Well, this book ages really, really poorly. Some spoilers below.
It reads exactly like the time it was written (1989): “progressive” enough to include, at least superficially, a cast of characters including a same-sex couple and people of color in mixed-race relationships, as well as treatment of the AIDS epidemic and drug abuse that leans more sympathetic than condemning. However, it’s not exactly “woke” enough to avoid stumbling into some major Don’t Do That’s. Weetzie, pixie bohemian darling protagonist, is signified as being creative and unique in part thanks to her habit of incorporating Native American flourishes into her fashion. She’s a Coachella Oops before they existed, a true proto-hipster on the first wave of appropriation.
Likewise, the aforementioned people of color are given tokenizing names, that are ridiculous in a bad-kind-of-different way from how all of the names in the book are ridiculous. The same-sex couple have a willing three-way with their best female friend, not in a nod to bi- or pan-sexuality, but because she wants to have a baby and there they are with male genitalia just ready and available to help her out!
And even if all that was not present, it’s just a weird book in a way that is not my kind of weird. You’d have to call it magical realism, not only because of the literal wish-granting genie, but also because the Los Angeles in this book, and the characters’ lives as a specific internal function of the Los Angeles in this book, are a fantasy unconnected to the Los Angeles of reality, during the 1980’s or at any time. It’s written in prose so simple and limited that an elementary school child could read it and not lack for comprehension — except, of course, for the small matter of the plot, which engages with content that’s way beyond the average kid of that age. In fact, I read this when I was around 9-10 years old, after having found it shelved in the school library with other books at that reading level (to be clear: this was a mistake on the part of the library/librarian.) I remember understanding the words that were written, and what those words were saying, but being either confused or shocked by concepts that I had no context to understand. I remember finishing the book and coming away from it with the unpleasant sensation that I had seen and experienced something I wasn’t supposed to, but I couldn’t point to specifically what it was. Reading it now, it’s really clear why, because what I now recognize as an obvious lead-in to a sex scene, or a clear description of depression and addiction, are written in that same blunt, childlike prose that stops short of being functionally descriptive enough to clarify the proceedings because the real meaning is all in between the lines.
This book was a cult classic with Gen Xers and older Millennials. I get it. Weetzie is a punky, aspirational fantasy of a character that would have been complete catnip for eccentric and oddball teen girls of the early 90s. But man, it was hard for me to read now. If I had been five years older when I first read it, I would have probably been all on board, but I don’t have the benefit of nostalgia to forgive its flaws.