Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart

Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children, 2008 (Hardcover)
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: September 11, 2010
Finished: September 15, 2010

From the inside cover:
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Laundau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

This books is a million kinds of awesome, it is brilliant on so many levels.

Frankie is a sophomore (grade 10) at the prestigious Alabaster Preparatory boarding school. She went from being a nobody in grade 9 to a stunning beauty over the summer, to the point where she's hardly recognizable. The boys, especially the senior boys, are starting to pay attention to her, and she likes it at first. But after a while, Frankie realizes that the boys, including her new boyfriend Matthew, only care about their own precious little lives and think of her as just a pretty piece of furniture at their lunch table. Frankie, being an independent spirit and sick and tired of being underestimated by others, takes action. She's smart too, and wants to beat the boys at their own game. The boys are all part of The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all-male secret society founded at the school back in 1951, the same one Frankie's father was part of when he attended the school. Their mysterious guide book, The Disreputable History, has been missing since the 70s, and Frankie's first step is to find it before the boys do. The second step is to plan the best pranks in the history of the school to show the boys that they're aren't 'all that and a bag of chips' like they think they are. Frankie wants to take them off their pedestal, and whoo boy, does she ever.

The book is written in third person, from the point of view of a omniscient narrator. The writing is astounding to say the least, and is some of the most intelligent writing I've seen in a YA book. Frankie loves to play with words, she'll use words like nocuous (from innocuous) or parage (from disparage) in a sentence. And have it make sense. Frankie is such a strong female protagonist, which is always a pleasure to see, notices right away that the boys think less of her because she's a girl, younger than them, and think she must not have a brain in her head because she's so pretty. She notices that Matthew has a need to be right all the time, and takes all that from a scene that most girls would just dismiss. Frankie's pranks aren't just to show the boys how smart she is (they don't even know the pranks are her doing), they are carefully orchestrated social commentary: noting the lack of female presence at the administrative level despite the majority of the school population being female, the cafeteria only serving foods made by the company that paid for the new cafeteria building and not offering a healthy option for students, and the fact that assemblies are held in the school's Christian chapel even though the assemblies are nondenominational, the fact that people only send their children to Alabaster prep because of the networking and connections.

The ending made me slightly mad, that her family didn't know what to think of her and insists she go to counseling. In a way, the school was more lenient with her than her family was, which is pathetic and sad. If it were my daughter I'd tell her I was proud of her and tell her that things will get better when she's in a different environment with different minded people, even though it doesn't seem likely to her now. There are people that shun her for trying what she did and break the social and patriarchal barriers set before her, but she eventually realizes it's not much of a loss for her, that she doesn't care about people that don't appreciate her for what she is.

Looking back, I did things with the same thought behind them as Frankie did. Sometimes my only motivation for getting good grades was to prove to the boys I went to school with (mostly ethnic boys that assumed that girls were around to look pretty and birth babies and that smarts of any kind was part of the male realm) that I could do things just as they could, if not better. I was fortunate to be raised in a family that taught me there wasn't much I couldn't do just because I was a girl, and even more fortunate to marry a man that loves me for my wonderful mind and sees me as an equal, and admits it when I'm right and he's wrong (and vice-versa). I wish books like this had been around when I was in high school and frustrated with people that made me feel bad telling me I wasn't supposed to want the things I wanted (in the words of the book). I'd give this book to just such girls, the smart ones with craptacular boyfriends or dads that think its more important for their daughters to be pretty than intelligent. It'll reassure them of their place in the world.

Read this book. Trust me, just read it.

Thoughts on the cover:
Appropriate considering the letter with the sealing wax theme throughout the book. Better than the paperback version, I think.

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