Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Guest Post: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Full disclosure: one of the few people I worship or idolize is John Green. His young adult literature is some of the most honest, innovative and clever stuff out there. And don’t even get me started about the revolution that is The Vlog Brothers (see my post about their work, original content and plagiarism here). So when John shared a list of books he’d recommend as holiday gifts, I quickly bought half a dozen of them from Amazon (for myself - whoops). Among that list, the most intriguing title was The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. After some perusing of reviews, and general background information, I purchased the book. While the cover wasn’t particularly appetizing, the first twenty pages were. Frankie, a fifteen-year-old New England prep school student, with family legacies galore, had the vocabulary of Whitman, and the shrewdness of Twain. I was reeled in very quickly.

When the novel starts Frankie has entered the elite world of a Massachusetts-based, residential prep school with roots as an all male institution. She cannot rely (that much) on her older sister, because she’s already graduated and gone on to school on the West coast. As most girls at this ripe age (note the Taylor Swift song) often do, Frankie falls for a charming popular boy almost immediately. It’s quickly revealed to the reader that Matt is a scholar-athlete, and his group of friends includes one aptly nicknamed boy called Alpha. Once Matt and Frankie begin a relationship, we see that the secret societies known to exist at private institutions of higher learning do still run rampant, and their exclusivity still locks girls out of the fun and games.
What sets this novel apart from other secret society books and films, is that Frankie, unbeknownst to Matt and his friends, has discovered how the society functions and is not about to be left out. The reader then becomes immersed in Frankie’s tomfoolery and shenanigans that benefit and control the society without the boys knowing who’s pulling the strings. Her ideas are witty, well-exploited, and devilishly planned, however, as a fellow lady, I was a bit disappointed that these escapades were targeted at wanting to be in the “boys’ club”. While it’s nice to see a girl outsmart the boys, there’s also a message being sent to the young adult audience that playing tricks on people, vandalizing school property, and lying to your friends are all worthwhile when trying to impress your boyfriend, and a half-century old club that the current matriculation is unaware of.
The writing, vocabulary, and witty plot of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks definitely propel the novel into the land of John Greens and David Levithans, but as a teacher, I still struggle with the gender equality issues as well as the value placed on popularity within the novel.  I fear that some young ladies will admire or emulate Frankie’s actions, but am also eager for teens to read that Frankie takes ownership of her mistakes. There are certainly lessons to be learned from this book, but I’m unsure of whether they can be extrapolated without guidance. Teens: read carefully.

Kaitlin is a Massachusetts based sixth grade English teacher. You can follow her at @KEMattison or check out her blog WeAreTheTide.com

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