August 11, 2021 7:34 AM EDT

When it comes to capturing the heightened sensory experience of adolescence, music has always been an ideal vehicle. It’s an accelerated, exhilarating, hormone-addled time—one Francesca Lia Block renders with ecstatic precision in Weetzie Bat, a wisp of a debut novel that plays like a pop banger. The first volume of her avant-garde YA series Dangerous Angels, it trails teenage bohemian Weetzie and her best friend Dirk through the burrito stands, punk venues and Old Hollywood ruins of ’80s Los Angeles, in a magic-sprinkled plot that moves at the pace of a sports car on an empty freeway. It isn’t all fairy dust, though. There is addiction, heartbreak, violence, AIDS. Not every element of this magpie universe has aged well; the eclecticism of 1989 looks, in some cases, like appropriation. But Block’s pure intentions shine through. Her book channeled the spirit of youth into poetic language, broke ground for queer representation in YA and remains a literary lifeline for weird girls (and others) the world over. —Judy Berman

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