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Saturday, December 10, 2011

‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ by E. Lockhart

From the BLURB:

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 Landau-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.

Frankie Landau-Banks grew up over the summer. Her frizzy hair smoothed, legs got long, bra filled out and now heads are turning, for a change.

To her family she was ‘bunny’, the last-ditch effort to save her parents flailing marriage, and her father’s last (shattered) dream to have a boy.

To her fellow pupils at the prestigious Alabaster Preparatory Academy, she was known as Zada’s little tag-along sister.

But now Frankie is sixteen, and by the end of the new school year she will have abducted a Guppy, campaigned for the rights of vegetables, created a subtle feminist rebellion and become the most despised student on campus.

This is her story, or at least, the prelude to her life’s story.

‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ was the 2009 Printz Honor contemporary young adult book by E. Lockhart. It was also a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Wow. Just, ‘wow’. I adored this book. ‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ is exploring big ideas very subtly, and with a phenomenal narrative voice. This book covers a lot of teen dramas; dealing with social power-plays, sexism, feminism and inequality.

Frankie is starting at Alabaster boarding school afresh. She has gone up a cup-size over the summer, and now the popular senior boys are paying her attention. In particular, Matthew Livingston, heir to a newspaper empire and one of the Kings of Alabaster. But as Frankie and Matthew’s relationship gets serious, his friends start vying with Frankie for his attentions, in particular Alessandro ‘Alpha’ Tesorieri. When Frankie pieces together a curious puzzle concerning a secret all-male Alabaster society (so named the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds), Frankie concocts a plan to win her boyfriend’s affections (and attentions) and insert herself into the masculine exclusivity of the tempting Basset Hounds.

But as their pranks get wilder and more politically-minded, Frankie starts to really come to care for the floppy-eared rebellion. She starts questioning her place as a ‘little woman’ in a school of men.

The storyline could have deluged into so-so, mediocre territory if not for the utterly remarkable third-person narration that makes ‘Disreputable History’ a stand-out read. Our omniscient narrator feels more like a biographer. Someone who is picking apart Frankie Landau-Banks’ life history, and looking for the triggering moment that made her who she is today (as this God-like voice muses, she could have gone on to be a criminal mastermind, or president of the United States. At the very least.) We are given the impression that Frankie has become a person-of-interest, and now the time has come to sort through her sordid life history and look for contributing factors to her remarkable life;

How does a person become the person she is? What are the factors in her culture, her childhood, her education, her religion, her economic stature, her sexual orientation, her race, her everyday interactions – what stimuli lead her to make choices other people will despise her for?
This chronicle is an attempt to mark out the contributing elements in Frankie Landau-Banks’s character. What led her to do what she did: things she would later view with a curious mixture of hubris and regret.

The third-person narration is pure genius. It gives the novel a sense of foreboding, as we ponder Frankie’s brilliant scheming that will lead her to such infamy and memoir-exploration.

Frankie is a female protagonist unlike any other. She is clearly brilliant, but swamped by her feelings of female inferiority in a school previously overrun by men. Frankie is a planner and schemer, with a sharp mind and unlimited cunning. She is also a girl in love for the first time. It’s interesting to read and observe Frankie’s conflict, between her clear brilliance and her need to pander to Matthew’s affections. It’s clear early on in the story what Frankie’s journey will be. Lockhart is writing a girl’s first encounters with sexism and the antidote of feminism. But it never felt like these high-ideals were shoved down readers throats . . . I also appreciated the fact that themes of sexism and feminism aren’t exactly your run-of-the-mill YA explorations. Lockhart is offering up something different, but vital for young female readers. I tip my hat to her, I really do.

I don’t know why I’m constantly surprised into liking Printz Honor books. It happened with ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ too, when I was completely caught off-guard by my absolute love of a prestigious book. ‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ is more Printz brilliance. E. Lockhart is writing a memoir-esque encounter of a girl’s grassroots rise to infamy (starting at high-school level, but no doubt rising to world domination in a few years). Our protagonist is cunningly wonderful as she navigates a man’s world but finds a way to manipulate it from within. I absolutely loved E. Lockhart’s inspired narration, and the vital theme of feminism in this young adult novel. A definite must-read.


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