Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

by Kim on July 9, 2009 · 23 comments

disreputable historyTitle: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Author: E. Lockhart

Genre: YA fiction

Pages: 345 (hardcover)

Two Sentence Summary: Fifteen-year-old Frankie starts out the year with a new, awesome senior boyfriend. But pretty soon Frankie gets tired of being treated like a little girl and strikes back.

Two Sentence Review: This book is exactly the sort of YA book I’d want my daughter to read if I had one. There’s a lot of romance, but it also looks at much more interesting themes about how to stand up for yourself when you’re constantly being underestimated.

Grade: 93/100

Long Summary: Soon after Frankie Landau-Banks starts tenth grade, she gets asked out by senior Matt Livingston. While it’s awesome being Matt’s girlfriend, Frankie soon gets tired of the dynamic of his group of friends — she’s constantly just the girlfriend and can’t seem to make headway.

Frankie discovers that Matt and the other boys are part of a secret society at their private high school. Using her wits and some luck, Frankie manages to secretly take over the club, sending directions for pranks via e-mail. She thinks this will get her some respect from Matt and his friends, but as her pranks get more and more elaborate and manipulative Frankie risks losing her friends and Matt for good.

Long Review: I asked some questions about this book for Weekly Geeks #22. There were a lot of them, so I’m going to just follow them for the rest of the review. Here we go!

Bart (Bart’s Bookshelf) asked: Everyone who I know who has read it, has enjoyed this book to the ‘nth degree. Did you enjoy the book and should I just keep it on the wishlist, or search out a copy, like RIGHT NOW!? :)

I think you should actively start looking for a copy of this book. I think it has all of the things a good YA book had — a great main character, a good plot, and an extra quirk that makes it special.

In this case, I think the extra quirk is the narrator. The book reads very much like an anthropological study, so the narrator gets to make a lot of jokes and commentary on what is happening. I loved that and thought it helped make the book something special.

Plus, there are a bunch of references to Bentham’s Panopticon which is about the most awesome thing ever.

Jennie (Biblio File) asked: In Battle of the Books, a reviewer (can’t remember who was reviewing that one) said that Frankie was about first love. Do you agree? Or did the reviewer miss the point?

I agree and disagree. Matt is Frankie’s first major boyfriend — the first boy you fall head over heels for. But really I think he’s just a device to explore bigger ideas about being yourself and being confident and finding your place when you’re constantly underestimated.

Without falling for Matt, Frankie wouldn’t have had to push herself to break into a club she wasn’t welcome in, nor would she have learned the things she did. But the story isn’t really about Frankie and Matt — it’s about Frankie figuring out how to deal with what she feels and how she responds.

By the end, I think Frankie learns more about herself than she does about love, but that’s just me. If I had a daughter, this is the sort of first love story that I’d want her to read because I think it’s about more than that.

Softdrink (Fizzy Thoughts) asked: Did you find any of the book over the top?

Not really. The concept stretches a little bit, but I didn’t find it unbelievable. Maybe I’m just willing to believe that private schools have secret underground tunnels and secret societies though :)

Kay (The Infinite Shelf ) asked: I read “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” and mostly liked it, but there’s been a lot of buzz about it and people often seem disappointed; were you?

I wasn’t at all, I was actually pleasantly surprised by it. The thing that bugs me about a lot of YA fiction is that everything works out in the end the way you want it too — there’s boy and girl trouble, but in the end they make up and are together and that’s that.

This book was not at all like that. There’s a moment when it could be, but then E. Lockhart takes it in a different direction. I can see how that might be disappointing, but I wasn’t at all. I thought this book was great.

Ali (Worducopia) asked: I heard from some teens that they felt Lockheart had the wrong idea about feminism. I mentioned their comments here and it led to an interesting reaction and discussion. Do you see Frankie as a good role model for girls? Do you think that her actions are too boy-focused to be truly feminist?

I just went over and read the comments on the post you’re referring to (and I think readers should too). I love the comment from a boy who said, “I saw this as a feminist book, and our generation isn’t about feminism, we’re about equality.”

I actually agree with that statement, interestingly enough. I’m only 23, so I missed most of the big feminist movement. I think the issue is that feminism get caricatured a lot into an idea that feminists think they deserve more than men. I know this isn’t true, but it’s a perception I think younger people have (I know I did).

So, in that way I guess I can see the criticism of the book — Frankie is too centered on getting into the boys club when she should be making her own. The problem is that I’ve found sometimes there isn’t another club you can make. You have to get into the old boy’s club or find a way to dismantle it before you can make change. In that way, I really empathized with Frankie and what she was trying to do.

But I also absolutely agree with your (Ali’s) assessment of the book:

Personally I didn’t think the author was saying that she was perfect or she made the best choices. I read it more like: here’s what Frankie felt; here’s what she did about it; and here are the consequences, and Wow! That’s not what Frankie expected at all.

I think that sums up this book really, really well.

Other Reviews: Worducopia;

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Kari July 9, 2009 at 11:31 am

Looks like we were on the same brain wave today. ;)

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bermudaonion July 9, 2009 at 11:42 am

Boy, everyone had great questions. This is on my wish list and it sounds like I need to get it in my TBR pile.

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diaryofaneccentric July 9, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Sounds like a good one. I hadn’t planned to read it, but I think you convinced me otherwise.

–Anna

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Jeanne July 9, 2009 at 4:51 pm

I do have a daughter, and she’s looking for something else to read this summer…might have to find this one for her.

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Joanne July 9, 2009 at 7:34 pm

I’d like to get my sons to read this book, same for if I had daughters. It was cool to see you mention the Panopticon – now I don’t feel like the only person who was impressed about it being talked about in the book :)

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Kim L July 9, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Kim, what a great review! I personally could not put this book down. I loved Frankie, I loved the setting, and I loved the way the book was narrated. I also loved the fact that the book is not all about relationships. Frankie’s boyfriend plays a book role in the book, but I think it shows pretty realistically what a typical high school relationship looks like. You’re really finding out who you are.

And yes, the ending was perfect. I only hope there are more books with Frankie in them, because I would really like more of her.

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kay July 10, 2009 at 2:38 am

Great review! As I said, I read it and I liked it; I thought there was a lot of thought behind it – like you, I loved the numerous Panopticon references. I thought it was intelligent and really appropriate.

What turned me off a little is exactly what you mentioned by answering Ali’s question : I, too, would have loved for Frankie to create her own club instead of trying to be one of the boys. But in the end, I still felt satisfied with how it turned out.

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Care July 11, 2009 at 8:38 am

ok, now you have me worried about this Panopticon thing that I’ve never heard of. Should I go seek that out first?
Interesting bit about feminism – your view that later generations see feminists as wanting MORE than men. this is new to me. My feelings are that the word ‘feminist’ has conjured up an unpleasant “image” that most women can’t identify with or are scared to be perceived as such and we have totally allowed the meaning of the word feminism to be distorted. “Oh, I believe in feminism but I’m not a feminist” crap. So this is interesting.

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uncertainprinciples July 11, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Sounds good – I hadn’t heard of the book ’til right now. Am tempted to look it up on Amazon immediately…

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Fyrefly July 12, 2009 at 8:12 am

Excellent review! I read this book during this spring’s readathon (review here), and I agree with pretty much everything you said. Re: the feminism thing, I do think this book is not as feminist as it appears at first glance. Arguing “girls are just as ______ as boys” implies that you’re buying into the notion that there’s something there to argue against, if that makes sense. It reminds me of a discussion I had with my advisor where she was talking about being a role model for us as women scientists, and I wanted to say “I’m not a ‘woman scientist’, I’m just a scientist.” I think that guy with his “feminism ≠ equality” comment was onto something.

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Megan July 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Sounds like an awesome read — and I’m all for any YA with a strong female protagonist. Or just strong characters in general! I’ll definitely look for it. :)

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Ha ha :)

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 5:58 pm

I think so. This book was very fun to read.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Excellent!

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 5:58 pm

I think a girl would like this. I totally related to the feeling of needing to fit in with people who you think are better than you and of trying to find yourself in a first relationship.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I was sort of shocked and excited about the reference. But I get excited whenever I can use stuff I learned in my literature theory class because it always seemed so obscure.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 6:01 pm

I had a hard time putting it down too. This was the book I’d read before bed, but I stayed up late a few nights because I couldn’t put it down.

And I agree, I think Frankie would be fun to see in some more books. I’d love to see what she learns and how she tries to balance her life better after this.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Yes, I liked how intelligent the book felt. I like books that make me feel smart :)

You’re right — I think it would have been cool to see Frankie try to star her own club, but I also don’t know if that would have been realistic. There’s something relatable, at least for me, about wanting to fit into a place where you feel like you don’t. Starting your own club is like admitting you won’t fit which in some ways isn’t immediately satisfying. I think Frankie sort of learned the lesson about all of this at the end though.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Nah, they do a good job of explaining the Panopticon when the bring it up. I just got excited because it’s a sort of weird reference that made me smile.

I agree with your unpleasant idea about feminists. I didn’t have such a good image before because I always saw it as women thinking they had to be better than men somehow or the man-hating idea.

I like thinking about feminism as, I guess, getting to a place where my gender doesn’t matter as much. I can work and interact with people without being assessed differently because of gender. I dunno, it’s all pretty complicated for me though — I still don’t have a good way of explaining it.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm

It is good, I hope you did look it up.

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Kim July 14, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Your analogy makes perfect sense. And there is something non feminist about Frankie only wanting to get into the boys club. But I think what she tries to do points out some other themes about acceptance and what it’s ok to do be accepted.

I like the equality comment as well.

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