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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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

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. 
 Often times when I read book reviews, people complain about the main female characters. And they have reasons, reasons that can be cited from examples in the text. The characters are whiny, needy, immature, childish, bratty, dumb, too stupid to live, too dependent on their boyfriends (who exhibit stalker-ish tendencies) or just plain boring to read about. I’m not bashing these reviews – these are real problems in YA lit today, that need to be solved, we need strong female role models. 

But comparing and contrasting these books with whiny characters to a story like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks shows how amazing strong female characters can be when done well. 

Frankie has always been considered the “bunny rabbit” of her family: sweet and kind and someone to pass over. She attends her freshman year of school at Alabaster (a pristine boarding school her father attends), blending in like the bunny rabbit she is expected to be. But once she reaches sophomore year, everything changes as Frankie starts to feel more sure and confident of herself. She gets herself a boyfriend, the charming Matthew Livingston, and as their relationship becomes more serious she realizes he’s lying to her. As she investigates what he’s doing, Frankie discovers that Matthew is part of an all-boys club called the Bassets, which her father also participated in. She decides to help the Bassets anymously, by being sneaky – and getting plenty of pranks done. 

At the beginning the plot alienated me a bit. The first chapters are more a retelling then scenes that you’re straight in, showing Frankie’s “bunny girl” tendencies. This slogged for me, though I see the reasons that they were put in the novel. For about the first five chapters I thought I might put down the book. But I continued on, a fact that I’m glad I did. The book picks up speed and takes you away from the retellings and into more of the in-your-face plot. The other concern I had with the plot originally was that it seemed to be based around tropes, really, and only tropes, coming from the blurb and reviews that I’d read. A boys’ boarding school that a girl wants to take down? I’ve seen that plenty of times before, from movies to TV to books. But Lockhart cleverly subverts those tropes into a fascinating story that explores gender roles and feminism. The plot is far from predictable, cleverly twisting and turning. And that ending? Oh my god, yes. 

Now, the characters. Frankie Frankie Frankie Frankie, I love you. She so clearly develops and changes throughout the book, from the innocent “bunny rabbit” to the strong, confident girl. And remember those complaints people had that I cited at the beginning of the review? She pushes all those away. Frankie’s a strong, smart, confident girl who has ambition and goals, as well as insecurities. We need strong female characters in YA, and I think I’ll point to her as one from now on. I know some people found Frankie to be irritating, but I found her to be interesting and a strong, smart girl. Now, to the boys. I thought that the book would end up with Frankie maybe having to choose between Alpha/Matthew/Porter, but the ending is a knockout. And it’s in no way a “choose the right boy” scene. Now, I much preferred Alpha and Porter to Matthew. Matthew is an ignorant jerk, and yes, that may have spoiled the book in some way, but he’s an ignorant jerk. However, he’s well developed and strong, as are all the boys. Really everyone in the novel is developed, even the most minor of characters. I think that this book holds up strong because of its characters and explorations of themes (feminism, etc). All the characters are strong and developed and interesting even when I hate them (cough cough Matthew). 

The writing is very crystal clear and strong. The book is written in more of a unique way: it’s an account of Frankie’s first two years in high school. I can only think of one other book written like this -- Octavian Nothing . Lockart’s writing is easy to read and interesting. I loved her exploration of themes like feminism and sexuality woven throughout the text; it really made the book more thought-provoking. She didn’t blatantly explain the themes, simply wove them through and made you think. 

Overall, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks may just be one of my new favorite YA books. I loved everything about it, really, and next time someone needs a strong girl read I’ll be sure to mention Frankie and her silly, crazy pranks. 

Five stars. 

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