Thursday, June 2, 2016

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

I started off and got about half way through The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks really liking it.  I thought I'd be writing a glowing review when finished.  However, by the end, my feelings were fairly ambivalent.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the story of a sophomore girl at a prestigious boarding school.  She's bloomed between her freshman and sophomore year, causing her to catch the eye of popular senior boys and start dating one.  She adores being part of that group of mostly senior boys and a girl or two.  The question is, can she really belong in that crowd?  It's not only the fact that they are all two years older and focused on college, but also that the boys belong to a secret society for boys only.  Where does that leave Frankie or any girl, really?

This book has a lot of elements I like in YA:  smart and clever female heroine, clever pranks, boarding school, a questioning of the social order.  And, as I say, I was super into it for about half of it.  At one point, I flipped to the back flap to see who'd written it.  I hadn't paid much attention when I put a hold on it to read, as it had come up on a list of books about boarding school.  Turns out, E. Lockhart.  And this fact will lead us to an aside.

I've read a few E. Lockhart's books.  Honestly, though, until reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I hadn't put together that they were all written by her.  The books I've read are We Were Liars (maybe one of her most well known titles), The Boyfriend List and no more.  Opps, I guess I've only read the three now.  Okay, well.  I really liked The Boyfriend List, but I'm not totally sure I'd have picked it up knowing it was authored by the same person as We Were Liars.  That's not to say that I didn't think We Were Liars was a good book.  It was.  It was super compelling.  It was also, however, a difficult read emotionally.  That can be difficult to subject myself to over and over.  Plus, in some ways, it was difficult emotionally in a kind of cheese grater way rather than in a clear sharp knife way (like, I'd say The Fault in our Stars is).  By cheese grater, it's to say that you know something is wrong and you feel vaguely bad the whole time because things are so messed up without totally knowing why until it all becomes clear (whenever that happens for you, author reveal or earlier).  Thus, your rubbing your knuckles the whole time.  Anyway.

The Boyfriend List was both a bit painful and also light hearted and funny.  It was a good read.  It's also a really different book from We Were Liars, so yes, I didn't put them together as from the same author.  And, now, back to the book at hand.

So, what turned the tide and made me feel more ambivalent about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks?  It would have to be Frankie's motivations for doing the things she does.  We know from the start that she masterminds a series of pranks (good stuff), so that's not a spoiler.  But why?  Well, it seems to be to impress the boys.  Yes, there is some social consciousness and some artistic motivation to the pranks, but it's mostly to get the attention of the two boys that she is drawn to (her boyfriend and another senior boy).  It's painful to me how much she wants their love and attention.  It's painful that she puts up all semester with being called "adorable" when she wants to be taken seriously.  It's painful that her reaction to this isn't, "I'll show you and sod off.  I can't make better romantic choices," but rather, "I'll show you and then you'll love me/want me/take me seriously."  Yes, this is probably realistic for some women, but I don't like it.  And, thus, it makes Frankie less likable for me.

Also, there is a big pushing of society having a separate standard and expectation for women/girls than for men/boys.  This is all the more reason Frankie should stick it to them with panache instead of trying to please them/win them over.  And another reason it's disappointing that she doesn't.

All that said, don't get me wrong.  Frankie is, indeed, smart, clever and exceedingly organized.  The pranks are interesting and fun.    So, what I'm left with is ambivalence.  The book is probably worth a read.  Perhaps you'll get something different about Frankie's motivations.  As for me, I'm looking at other E. Lockhart books.  I'll probably try a couple more.

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