After reading We Were Liars, I ordered E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I'm a little late to reading the book; it was published in 2008, when it was also recognized as a Printz Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist. I'd seen the cover at bookstores numerous times before - the original, baby blue cover with an envelope in the middle - so many times that I was actually sort of confident that I'd read it already. But when E. Lockhart's books dominated much of the discussion between teachers and librarians at the YA Lit Conference at Louisiana State University, especially The Disreputable History, I realized I had not, in fact, read it at all, and so I ordered it from the University of Lethbridge Bookstore about a week ago.
Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at the prestigious boarding school Alabaster, located on the east coast of the United States. Her older sister Zada graduated from the school the year before, and now she's headed to California to attend Berkeley. Zada was the key to Frankie feeling like she belonged at Alabaster in her freshman year: she sat with her sister at lunch, met some of the junior and senior students, and felt like she belonged at the school from the start. So by the time Zada leaves, Frankie is well established at the school and has friends of her own. And over the summer, she's transformed physically, as Lockhart describes, "Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places. Went from being a scrawny, awkward child with hands too big for her arms, a frizz of unruly brown fluff on her head, and a jaw so sharp it made Grandma Evelyn cluck about how 'When it comes to plastic surgery, it never hurts to do these things before college,' to being a curvaceous young woman with an offbeat look that boys found distinctly appealing" (5). At the end of the summer, she has a clue to how her new looks get her attention when she meets a boy on the beach who notices her in her string bikini and takes interest in the fact that she goes to Alabaster.
So when Frankie starts her sophomore year, she's getting the kind of attention that she has never gotten before, namely from senior Matthew Livingston. Frankie knows exactly what to say to him even though "Last year she had been unable to say two words when he was around" (34). They start dating and Frankie has high hopes for this year at Alabaster. That is, until she meets Matthew's best friend Alpha (nicknamed because he's the "Alpha Wolf" of their group, even though he's been away for a year attending public school), who just so happens to be the same boy who flirted with her on the beach at the end of the summer. He pretends not to know who she is, although Frankie knows he recognizes her.
Frankie soon discovers that Matthew and Alpha are part of a secret Alabaster society called the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. It's an all-male group, and Frankie hates the feeling of being excluded. She begins to involve herself in the group without any of the members knowing, orchestrating pranks that the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds could never even dream up.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is an incredible book, and Frankie is a character worth reading about. I loved reading about her infiltrating the all-male society, frustrated about traditional gender roles and the stringent rules imposed on males and females. There are some lovely paragraphs about Frankie navigating the space between how she wants to react and how she should react. For example, when her boyfriend Matthew gives her a compliment and she accepts it without feeling self-conscious, Matthew tells her he's glad she's not the kind of girl who can't take a compliment. Frankie doesn't think much about it at the time, but after Matthew leaves she reflects, "A tiny part of her wanted to go over to him and shout, 'I can feel like a hag some days if I want! And I can tell everybody about how insecure I am if I want! Or I can be pretty and pretend to think I'm a hag out of fake modesty - I can do that if I want, too. Because you, Livingston, are not the boss of me and what kind of girl I become" (79-80).
E. Lockhart has quickly become one of my favorite authors writing YA lit, and I'm looking forward to reading some of her earlier publications over the summer.