TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Lots of you may already know author E. Lockhart from such super popular novels as "The Boy Book" and "The Boyfriend List." I have to confess this is the first book I've read by her. Further confession: I probably wouldn't have picked it up if not for the absolutely rave reviews it received in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal. Having said that, I'm so glad I took the chance, because "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks," aside from its somewhat unwieldy title, is a great read with a smart, spunky main character and a decidedly feminist bent. What's not to like about that? 🙂
I fear that any plot summary will fail to capture the snarky, dry humor that really sets this book apart. Nevertheless, here goes. We have boarding school student Frankie Landau-Banks about to start her sophomore year at Alabaster. Just one year before, Frankie was one of those plain girls who hid in her sister's shadow and was content with swimming and debate club. Frankie's summer transformation catches the attention of gorgeous senior Matthew Livingston, the resident big man on campus. At first, Frankie is thrilled beyond words to be Matthew's girlfriend. The status makes her feel important and noticed. Frankie also discovers she loves being included in Matthew's crew of friends, particularly as that relates to Alpha, the de facto leader of Matthew's group. As time passes, Frankie begins to feel increasingly less valued than Alpha and the boys. It's almost as if Matthew dismisses her as simply another pretty girl, when, in fact, Frankie is wickedly smart.
One night, Frankie stumbles upon a meeting of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, Alabaster's exclusive, male-only secret society. Frankie's dad had been in the Order back in the day, when grand pranks were pulled on campus, so she had heard whispers of their feats. Now the Order is led by Alpha and Matthew, and, as Frankie learns, their schemes are all pretty lame. Still, Frankie wants so badly to be respected for her mind — and her deviousness — that she assumes Alpha's identity (online) and begins directing the Order to commit all sorts of fiendishly clever pranks. We're talking everything from dressing up statues in ladies' underwear to an ultra-ironic yet effective rebellion in favor of cafeteria vegetables. The pranks capture the attention of everyone at Alabaster. Frankie is proud of her evil accomplishments, but also annoyed that she cannot claim any credit. You can probably guess that at some point here, Frankie will be exposed as the Order's true mastermind and that revelation will have far-reaching effects on Frankie, Matthew, Alpha, and the rest of the school.
See, I knew it. This plot summary is still lacking. You'll have to trust me that this book is dry, hilarious, and witty. I mean, come on, Frankie honestly uses the word "dulge," as in the proposed opposite of "indulge." How great is that? Frankie is a debater, so she crafts some pretty compelling arguments over the course of the book on, among other things, a girl's place vs. a boy's place. I also loved how Lockhart weaved Frankie's school research on public performance art into the story, since Frankie uses a lot of what she learns to craft the Order's missions. My only quibble is that I felt the ending was just a bit of a letdown, although I get why Lockhart went in that direction.
As I said, this is a smart, insightful book that's a great combination of boarding school tale, coming of age story, social commentary, and female empowerment manifesto. Don't let the title put you off; I think girls in 7th grade and up will love Frankie.