The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, by E. Lockhart
Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at a prep school. Over one summer, she’s gone from geek to chic, and she starts her sophomore year by acquiring a hot new senior boyfriend–and a whole passel of conflicting emotions: In her quest to get closer to Matthew, she finds out that he’s involved in a secret society (he categorically denies it), and Frankie’s forced to infiltrate the group in a bid to win his respect.
Let’s get something straight here, okay? I really couldn’t care less what goes on at prep schools. I don’t care about secret societies, popular kids, what they’re wearing, or (since these things seem to pop up more in books about prep-school kids than any other type of literature) who they’re doing. In general, I find books about prep-school kids to be books that encourage aspiration in a direction truly distasteful to me, while running on and on about idiotic pranks that are only going to mean something to a very select group of people. To the rest of us, they will be interesting conversation fodder that we collect on our way from the cocktail bar to the food buffet, only to be forgotten once we spot the canapes.
And yet, I return to these books time and time again. I do this for one simple reason: I like looking for interesting people.
Sometimes this experiment lands me nowhere but flat on my face. There are at least two books I’ve read in the past few years whose protagonists have left me gasping for air, and not in a good way. E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks is not one of those.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of pranks, and there is plenty of snootiness, but there is also an engaging, wonderfully flawed main character who does things her own way, and that makes all the difference.
Floating around the edges of this book are a sister we only meet by telephone; the rest of an annoying family (who doesn’t have one?) and the potential for a love triangle. What’s really great about this book is the way that Frankie Landau-Banks, stuck physically in that no-man’s-land between fifteen and sixteen but mentally miles above everyone else, deals with that discrepancy, and her own curious way of proving herself.
The language in this book is exquisite. E. Lockhart only makes one misstep, and that’s when her omniscient narrator indulges a little ego by referring to herself. It’s a jarring, single, occurence, one that makes me wonder if it slipped the editing process somehow, but its influence pales next to the way the narrator gets us into Frankie’s head.
I like Frankie. I’ve got nothing in common with her, and this is not the type of book–and its setting not the type of setting–you go around cheering for people in. And yet, I wanted Frankie to have everything she ever wanted, even if she didn’t know what that was just yet. This is not a mere matter of identifying with the girl–our circumstances are vastly different. But if I rolled my eyes at the beginning and thought, “Oh, God, another book about a rich kid in a prep school,” it becomes obvious really fast that Frankie might be endowed monetarily, and, at a glance, fit in well enough, but she’s sorely lacking in other places.
So–onward, Frankie, in your world of inside jokes and pointless pranks and secretive school clubs, and props, even, for being predictable enough to come up with your own little language. Because, despite all of that, you made me like you, and that’s good enough to make me a fan.