Sunday, December 27, 2009

REVIEW: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The
Okay, so, this is a good young adult novel to pair with Eleanor, Quiet No More.  Just so you know, I'm now laughing like a super villain, impressed by my own ability to pair books intended for very different ages that nonetheless explore issues of gender and power.

Lockhart, E.  (2008).  The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.  New York:  Hyperion.


345 pages.

Appetizer:  Frankie Landau-Banks went from a gawky freshman, to a striking sophomore dating the most popular and handsome guy at her elite boarding school to a criminal mastermind by her junior year.  Told in the aloof voice of a researcher, this book shares the dates, the pranks and insights into the secret organization as Frankie progresses from her parents' "bunny rabbit" to a mastermind of unsanctioned boarding school activity who is hungry for power.

This is one of the Printz honors for 2008 and I've been hearing good things about this YA novel and about E. Lockhart all year.

And I have to say, all the good whispers and mentions are justified.  I found The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks to be a wonderful and fun read.

I love Frankie's sense of humor and the way she banters with other characters.  Lockhart does an excellent job of portraying her intelligence as well.  I liked that Frankie, as a woman, felt that she was capable of doing all the same things that the male students felt only they were entitled to do.  I thought that by showing how gender discrimination can still exist (particularly in underground organizations like a pranking secret society--pesky clandestine societies.  Would you please start paying attention to equal rights).  As students' read on, they can contemplate whether they like Frankie's methods of trying to gain access and can consider if any other methods would be possible.

I liked that the conflicts and interactions are analyzed through the lens of power dynamics.  (It really would bring forward that interpretation for students to discuss)  But I did feel, that at least at some points, I would encourage students to think about other ways of interpreting the events and interactions.  I'm a firm believer that the best way to gain understanding is to take into account multiple perspectives or analytic lenses.

Initially, I was a little put off by the fact that this story focused upon the interactions of rich, white kids at the elitist Alabaster Boarding School.  And Frankie was one in their number.  Although, Lockhart doesn't push too hard with confronting the race or class issues, she does directly address and challenge the sense of entitlement many of the characters feel.  And she does so with a lot of humor.

If you wanted to think about the television equivalent of a lot of the content of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I'd have to say it's definitely Gilmore Girls, although less family focused.

Dinner Conversation:

"I, Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds.  I take full responsibility for the disruptions caused by the Order--including the Library Lady, the Doggies in the Window, the Night of a Thousand Dogs, the Canned Beet Rebellion, and the abduction of the Guppy" (p. 1).

"Though not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock.  Certainly upsetting enough to disturb Frankie's conservative mother, Ruth, and to rile several boys in Frankie's New Jersey neighborhood to thought (and even actions) they'd never before contemplated.
Frankie herself was unsettled as well.
Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places" (p. 4).

"Intellectually, Frankie was not at all the near-criminal mastermind who created the Fish Liberation Society, and who will, as an adult, probably go on to head the CIA, direct action movies, design rocket ships, or possibly (if she goes astray_, preside over a unit of organized criminals.  At the start of sophomore year, Frankie Landau-Banks was none of these things.  She was a girl who liked to read, had only ever had one boyfriend, enjoyed the debate team, and still kept gerbils in a Habitrail.  She was highly intelligent, but there was nothing unusually ambitious or odd about her mental functioning" (pp. 6-7).

"The problem was that to them--to Uncle Ben and her mother, and maybe even to Uncle Paul--Frankie was Bunny Rabbit.
Not a person with intelligence, a sense of direction, and the ability to use a cell phone.  Not a person would could solve a problem.
Not even a person would could walk fifteen blocks all by herself without getting run over by a car.
To them, she was Bunny Rabbit.
In need of protection.
Inconsequential" (pp. 12-13).

To Go with the Meal:

An excellent book recommendation, I would seriously consider using The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks in a high school classroom.  There are a lot of teaching moments that could turn into extensive classroom discussions.  For example, on pages 53-56, the narrator describes a few of the essays and arguments Frankie is learning about in one of her classes, that of the panopticon and Michel Foucault's understanding of the prison in which the inmates would always fear they were being watched.  The narrative explains the experience of being watched by comparing it to the paranoia you might feel if you think someone might have seen you pick your nose.  It is wonderful; not only because the passage is so hilarious, but also because I have a friend who has spent the entire last quarter taking a course that focused solely upon the works of Foucault.  She is working on her Ph.D.  (I of course had to call her and read the entire passage aloud to her, whether she liked it or not.  And she did like.  I mean, she laughed a few times.  But, of course, she may also have been paranoid that I was secretly watching her and would punish her for not enjoying the excerpt.  I will never know!)
But, I love it when a book helps a teacher to present complicated theoretical arguments in a practical and humorous way.  It makes me want to dance.  And harass grad students  into listening to read alouds.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is also just ASKING to be the subject of high school papers that examine the power dynamics and gender expectations throughout the book.  Students could also get into a healthy debate over whether they agree with some of the choices Frankie made.

To go a creative route, students could also write a short story about what they expect Frankie to be doing ten years after the events shared in her disreputable history.

This book could also be a good choice for sisters or a mother and daughter to read together and discuss their own feelings about what a girl should expect from a romantic relationship and whether or not they would want to be the kind of person who gets lost in their significant other or whether they want a more fair balance in a relationship or whether they expect their significant other to get lost in them.  I found the fact that Lockhart included a relationship in which a guy expected the girl to accommodate his friends and interests, without him bothering to take an interest in the girl's life to be wonderful for discussion.

Speaking as a person who, during my teenage years, has lost several friends to "I didn't exist until I met him" type of obsessive romantic relationships, I feel like this needs to be addressed more.  I found myself wishing I could have had Frankie's history to read while I was in high school.  It could have provided some perspective.  (Although, admittedly, I don't think the friends I've lost touch with were masterminding a way to get their love interests to reveal their secrets or attempting to score an invite into a secret society.  But that would have been cooler.)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

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