Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
E. Lockhart
2008; Hyperion; 978-0-7868-3818-9 (hardback)

Summary: Before, she was Bunny Rabbit. Invisible, small, someone who needed protecting. But when Frankie grows four inches and gains weight in the right places, she starts realizing that she's not invisible . . . but only if she doesn't let herself become so. And Frankie Landau-Banks has no desire to be invisible. Unless it means she's got the control, the power . . .

Four Things to Know About The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

#1: Words give you power.

Frankie has a grasp on wordplay that is amusing, but that also gives insight into her character. Her physical transformation occurs while she spends the summer reading the short stories of Dorothy Parker, a woman who knew her way around words. Then, Frankie starts reading P.G. Wodehouse, a comic genius who used language in new ways. Inspired, Frankie starts saying she's gruntled (the opposite of disgruntled) when she's happy, and creates her own words like maculate. Yet while this reflects her intelligence, it causes her boyfriend to view her with amusement. Matthew, her geeky-goofy-hot boyfriend, has an inner copy editor, and Frankie's new words hit him the wrong way. Between the two of them, there's a tug-of-war over the right words--a struggle that shows how little they really know each other--and this struggle foreshadows the central action of the novel.

#2: The holder of a secret is in control.

E. Lockhart's novel is roughly divided into two halves: the first, when Frankie is trying to learn Matthew's secret, and the secret of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hound. Then, there is the second half, when no one knows that Frankie is the true leader of the Bassets. Each position gives Frankie a different kind of weapon. Just realizing that Matthew is keeping something from her gives Frankie a level of control over their relationship--control that she needs to prevent things from becoming too unequal. However, having a secret gives you even more power, Frankie believes. Being the one to direct the Bassets creates a sense of delight within her, but it is tinged by the knowledge that no one knows that Frankie is the one responsible. Perhaps not knowing the secret is a bigger weapon than being the secret?

#3: Girls have to learn how to use their weapons.

An intriguing aspect of the novel is Frankie's relationships, particularly with males. She learns that using her intelligence and strategic thinking, she's able to work a situation to her advantage. This might be seen as cold and manipulative, but that's just one aspect of Frankie's personality. As much as she wants Matthew to tell her the truth and spend time with her, it's all because she is attracted to him and likes him, not to mention she enjoys the prestige of having a senior boyfriend. And in getting what she wants, Frankie has her first taste of power. No longer is she her parents' Bunny Rabbit, a little sister who needs guidance. Frankie not only can take care of herself, but she can excel in ways that no one else could have seen.

#4: It's about power.

The crux of this novel seems to be power: how Frankie gains it and rises above being underestimated. Not every girl would want to infiltrate a secret society and create elaborate pranks, but any teen who reads this novel won't help but be inspired to have an impact of their own. Frankie isn't perfect: she's ambitious and strategic, perhaps to a fault. Yet she's also just a girl, who in spite of everything she's gone through, still has friends and likes reading and has a wide-open future ahead of her. The omniscient narrator remarks that Frankie could be one of those ultra-intelligent people who goes mad, and it's certainly possible. But it's just as likely that Frankie will run a major corporation, discover a cure for cancer, or become President. And that, to me, is a fitting comment on Frankie and the role she plays in her own disreputable (but not really) history.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is a truly remarkable novel, well-deserving of the praise it has already received. For a similar story exploring how girls can discover and use their own strength, try Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller.

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