Title:The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: Contemporary / YA
Publication date: March 2008
Hardcover/ Paperback 352 pages
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.
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: This is a well-loved, award winning book. On a more personal level, Carla from The Crooked Shelf told me I would love it. And then this review (and the comments) sealed the deal.
I want to hold this book in my hands, get on my soap box and say to all and sundry: here, this book, THIS book, it is a Great Book.
It begins with a written confession of pranks orchestrated by 16-year- old Frankie Landau-Banks when attending her sophomore year at the very exclusive Alabaster Preparatory Academy, an academy for privileged kids who one day hope to attend Ivy League colleges and go on to rule the world.
It proceeds to tell us the disreputable history of Frankie and how she got to that point, alternating between an omniscient narrative who not only tells us facts about Frankie’s past but also examines some of her thoughts and actions and a third person narration from Frankie’s point of view as the story moves along. It is an interesting choice of narrative and one that I think, completely works within the confines of this book.
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?
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks chronicles Frankie’s journey from being a quiet, clever, geeky girl, her father’s “bunny rabbit” to someone who starts to think and to fully, completely interact with the world she lives in by observing and analysing, criticising and daring to ask questions mostly about the sometimes unspoken rules and roles that society allows or doesn’t allow her to play, as a girl.
Upon starting her sophomore year, Frankie is no longer who she was the year before, both physically speaking with her new attractive figure and intellectually speaking with her keen eye. Almost from the get go, she lands a popular boyfriend, an older boy called Matthew who is handsome and rich and also a member of the school’s exclusive all-male infamous secret society. The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds is a secret that everybody knows about but only a few get to be a part of it. Frankie knows of it, because her father used to be a member and to this date still preens when thinking about the memorable pranks they used to pull.
Unlike what the title of the book or its blurb might suggest, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is not a light, funny, breezy read. It is actually a rather difficult, painful read for many reasons although not without its humorous moments. And it is difficult and painful because difficult and painful is the path that Frankie chooses to take. Her frustration at times is nearly palpable and completely relatable.
We are talking about how Frankie knows that Matthew is a member of the Bassets but how he will not tell her that, keeping a secret that requires him to lie to her. How doesn’t see any other way to be a part, than to infiltrate the Bassets and orchestrate new pranks – pranks, I might add, that are clever and also ”creative acts of civil disobedience” .
How she loves to be a part of his group of friends, including another boy called Alpha for his leadership of the group but how she knows that her acceptance by the group is not because of HER: it in the direct relation to the fact that she is Matthew’s girlfriend and as long as she doesn’t break away from her “place”. The book is full of moments that are made of so much hurt that is almost unbearable. For example when Frankie realises that once she does something that she is not “supposed” to, like say, sitting at the senior’s table during lunch on her own, there will be repercussions and Matthew will act differently:
“When I act the way I acted, Matthew doesn’t like me as much as he does when I fall off my bicycle”.
It is painful because Frankie is an extremely complex character who both loves to be a part of that exclusive, sexist group, but who also knows that it is exclusive and sexist. She is aware that there are double standards (punishment for her acts for example are more lenient because she is a girl) and that the boys have everything cut out for them and being a part of the Bassets is about solidifying their position. She wants doors to be open for her and wants to walk through them just like they would and I can’t begin to express how awesome of a character Frankie is: she wants to fall in love and not lose herself, she is passionate, driven, unapologetic ambitious and intelligent and aware that all of those also make her a privileged girl – even though it doesn’t make it any easier when trying to break through those closed doors, doors that have no need to be closed at all.
Ana from Things Mean a Lot, in her completely awesome review of the book (which I highly recommend you to read) says it best:
Why were there no books like this around when I was fifteen? A book like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks would have helped me immensely – it would have enabled me detect the pattern and to connect the dots much sooner than I did; and therefore, to quote the narrator, it would have helped me stop feeling crazy because the whole world kept telling me I wasn’t supposed to want the things I wanted—which include truly equal opportunities as well as a world in which my gender is not the first defining characteristic people think of when trying to make sense of (or explain away) who I am. But for the sake of all the fifteen-year-olds in the world (and not just), I’m SO glad this book exists now. It’s accessible and yet intelligent; it’s direct rather than subtle, but that’s okay because it completely works. It’s unapologetic and complex; it’s funny and heartbreaking, and it’s an absolute pleasure to read. And as I said, it’s also realistically painful: it doesn’t make light of the price that people who burst through invisible doors have to pay, but it makes you consider that it might be worth it all the same.
This is a story that resonated with me in the most basic level. I get Frankie. Every time someone would tell her that she is “harmless”, or to tell her that she is “oversensitive” or that “she is thinking too much” when she questioned something, I understood her reactions completely. It is a powerful, thought provoking book.
At the beginning of the review I mentioned that the Alabaster Preparatory Academy was a school for people who would go on to rule the world. The main difference between Frankie and the majority of those kids is thus: she is not going to go on to rule the world; she will go on to change it. I finished the book with my heart broken – just like Frankie’s – but in the best possible way and you can only understand what I mean when you go and read for yourself.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: I get goosebumps every time I read this quote.
Frankie Landau-Banks is an off-roader.
She might, in fact, go crazy, as has happened to a lot of people who break rules. Not the people who play at rebellion but really only solidify their already dominant position in society – as did Matthew and most of the other Bassets – but those who take some larger action that disrupts the social order. Who try to push through the doors that are usually closed to them. They do sometimes go crazy, these peope, because the world is telling them not to want the things they want. it can seem saner to give up – but then one goes insane from giving up.
On the brighter side, Frankie has life easier than a lot of people with similar drivers, similar minds, similar ambitions. She is nice-looking and will be well-educated. Her family has a good amount of money, though not as much as some. Many doors will be open to her easily, and it may be that she can open the ones she wants to without too much pain or strife.
And so, another possibility – the possibility I hold for – is that Frankie Landau-Banks will open the doors she is trying to get through.
And she will grow up to change the world.
If you liked this book and would like to read more from awesome women who rock my real-life world the way that Frankie rocked my fictional world I highly recommend you to check these blogs:
And if you have any of your own to recommend please do tell!
Verdict: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is a brave, thought provoking book about what feels like to be a budding feminist. It is a book that matters, with a story that matters and that does not mean that is a didactic on “how to” – there is an interesting plot, a cool story. It has above all an awesome, flawed, complex female protagonist. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
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