The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
- Lexile Level: Unlisted*
- VOYA: 4Q3P S
- Reading level: Ages 18 and up*
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Hyperion Book CH; Reprint edition (August 25, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786838191
- ISBN-13: 978-0786838196
Frankie Landau-Banks is continuing the legacy of her family and attending the prestigious Alabaster Academy and Prepatory School, a boarding school guaranteed to give her the education and connections that will ensure success in all aspects of her life. Her freshman year, in the shadow of her graduating sister, Zada, Frankie occasionally hangs out with her sister and the powerful upperclassmen who rule the school. Her real home, however, is with her roommate, Trish and other less popular students. Frankie makes a few friends and joins the debate team where she quickly demonstrates her leadership abilities when she convinces the group to join the burgeoning Geek Conglomerate both as a defense against retaliation and as a means of gaining more power.
Over the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, Frankie develops into a curvaceous young woman who turns the heads of the powerful senior males when she returns to school, capturing the attention of her long-time crush, Matt Livingston. Suddenly thrust into the popular clique by her new relationship with the witty and sharp-tongued Livingston, Frankie is delighted to be surrounded by the crazy energy of the powerful boys and even finds the courage to stand up and spar with them verbally.
Quickly, however, she becomes aware that no matter how much she demonstrates her intelligence and wit, she remains merely arm candy. Irritated and put off by her boyfriend’s frequent disappearances with the boys, Frankie follows and discovers that the boys are part of the exclusive and infamous Order of the Basset Hounds secret society once ruled by her own father and his cronies. Realizing that she knows more about the group than the current members and has more spunk to orchestrate the kind of pranks the secret society is known for, Frankie sets out to infiltrate the group and works behind the scenes to put into action flamboyant and memorable shenanigans befitting the order. Her work, however, goes without celebration, as the current leader of the group claims responsibility.
This book is full of witty dialogue, intelligent commentary on social issues including feminism and vegetarianism, and amusing diatribes regarding grammar and language. Of particular interest is Frankie’s paper on the Panopticon and the work of secret societies to mock the power of the state. She also puts forth an interesting discussion regarding what she calls “neglected positives” that makes this a really great pre-SAT read for anyone looking to expand their vocabulary.
Sadly, the verbal wordplay is the highlight of the novel. Frankie is vaguely interesting in that she is a wonderful strategist and profound observer of behavior while also being able to admit her own failings as she falls into stereotypical girly trappings. However, she is not inherently likable (at one point she knowingly uses sexual guile to diffuse her boyfriend’s suspicion) and the rest of her new friends fail to be as well. Alpha, the ring leader, is clearly a misogynist who feels threatened by anyone smarter or more powerful than him. Her boyfriend, Livingston, seems okay until you realize that he routinely lies to her and is unwilling to stand up to Alpha at any turn. Even Zada, who acts as Frankie’s feminist conscience, is often a snob. The central premise of the story– highlighted in a conversation between Frankie and Alpha regarding true off-roading versus buying an off-road vehicle– is that there is a tremendous difference between being willing to flaunt the rules versus being willing to actually break them. However, even Frankie is not a true rebel in that she relies upon the anonymity of a fake email address to direct the group and none of the pranks rise above juvenile mischief. Though she attempts to give the shenanigans political and social commentary, no one appears to view them as anything more than testosterone and alcohol fueled trickery.
Regardless, this is an interesting look at boarding schools, secret societies, and the concept of the panopticon. Teens should find the pranks entertaining and may even identify with Frankie and her friends on some level. Those looking for something more profound, however, will be disappointed.
*I disagree with the listing as for ages 18 and over. Frankie is a sophomore in high school and the oldest important characters are under 18 themselves. There is no questionable language or sex and even the innuendo is tame by comparison to most young adult books. I thought perhaps the Lexile reading level would shed some light on this. However, even though this is a Printz honor book, Lexile does not have a listing for it which I find really surprising. Starred reviews provided on Amazon and other sites, however, refer to the novel as for grades 7 and up, which seems much more appropriate.