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

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“It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them one people.

She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be.”

Frankie Landau-Banks, “Bunny Rabbit” to her family, is someone who everyone thinks of as a nice, sweet, pretty girl, if they think of her at all. Frankie attends a prestigious boarding school and finds out that her new boyfriend is a member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all male secret society. Frankie is tired of being the person that no one sees as anything but a fragile little girl. She’s tired of being underestimated. She comes up with schemes and pranks to subvert her school’s old fashioned values and traditions. She makes the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds do her bidding. And all without anyone even suspecting that it’s her.

I kind of want to be Frankie Landau-Banks. But then I don’t. It’s more like I wish I had some of the traits that she has: her guts to stand up for herself and what she believes in, her strategic and analytic way of thinking. I could do without her single minded obsessiveness, her need to manipulate people, and the constant power play she engages in with almost everyone around her. I don’t think Frankie is a likable character, but I do think that she is a great one. And she has the potential to become a powerful person who will advocate and possibly instigate social change.

“So, I was a monster, she thought. At least I wasn’t someone’s little sister, someone’s girlfriend, some sophomore, some girl – someone whose opinions don’t matter.”

This is one of my favorite quotes, as well as the one I opened the review with. Frankie is aware of her not so good behavior and traits and she makes no apologies for it. I haven’t seen a lot of female protagonists like Frankie in YA Literature. She has no bow and arrow and doesn’t get trained to physically fight bad guys. There isn’t even any bad guys. What Frankie does is funny and a great form of rebellion and social activism, but her motives and methods are in a moral and criminal gray area. Frankie wants power, she wants dominance. Even if no one else knows that it’s her pulling the pranks, she likes having the mental upper hand over her boyfriend, her friends, and the school administration. It gives her a thrill that’s probably not normal, but Frankie is 15 and still has a lot of maturing to do.

I didn’t really believe in the Frankie/Matthew relationship. Frankie thinks that she loves him and maybe in her own still limited 15 year old way she does. I don’t think it’s real, sustainable romantic love though. Frankie loved Matthew’s friends and social status as much as she loved him, she even thinks that to herself. She loves that he welcomes her into his world and opens doors that would otherwise be closed to her. She manipulates Matthew and relishes the thought of having the power over him. She simultaneously loves and hates the way that Matthew sees her as a non-threatening, fragile girl. She claims to want to have equal ground with him but really, Frankie wants to be above Matthew. She wants to know all his secrets and to be completely in his world without revealing her own secrets and opening up her own world. The biggest reason that Frankie does what she does is because she can’t stand to be excluded from her boyfriend’s cool secret club. Frankie is petty, juvenile, and not emotionally or mentally mature enough for a real relationship. Frankie is 15, plain and simple. I think it’s great to see a character who thinks and acts her age, as most people do.

But I see Frankie’s potential. She will grow up to be a lawyer or politician, I’m sure of it. She’s ambitious, intelligent, focused, and has the advantages of being an upper middle class, good looking, white woman with a really good education. She’s completely aware of how the cards are stacked in her favor and has no qualms about taking advantage of it in order to serve her agenda. A perfect politician-in-the-making. I can see why this book was a National Book Award Finalist and Printz Honoree. It’s important that young girls and boys read stories with realistic and flawed heroines like Frankie.

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