Saturday, January 24, 2009

Review: The Disreputable History of Frank Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I'm always a sucker for a YA novel about rich kids at prep school, and this book certainly did not disappoint. However, unlike most of the books I've read in this vein, the focus was not on a misfit (Curtis Sittenfield's Prep being the obvious example that comes to mind), but on a girl who by all accounts was in quite an excellent social position.

Frankie is a sophomore at her elite prep school and has gone from being a regular, if exceptionally intelligent, fourteen-year-old to an attractive fifteen-year-old who is dating the most popular senior boy in school. Her family, while not one of the wealthiest at her school, is certainly well off. Clearly not struggling for social acceptance from her peers, what frustrates Frankie is her inability to be involved in The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a secret society in which her boyfriend and his friends are involved. Frankie is jealous that she is excluded from The Bassets, which she knows quite a bit about since her father was a member when he attended the school. Frankie sets about hi-jacking The Bassets, causing (harmless) chaos at the school and returning The Bassets to their former notoriety through a series of creative pranks. Eventually, of course, she is found out and confesses.

What really stood out to me in this book was the conflicted ideas that various female characters held about feminism. Frankie is upset that she can't join The Bassets because she is female, but she seems less outraged at the exclusion than at the fact that her female friends do not socialize in the same comfortable way that the boys do. She continually reflects on the traditionally feminist advice of her older sister, now in college, and her roommate, but generally disregards it in favor of her own personal feelings. Frankie wants to subscribe to this mindset, but finds some portions of it in conflict with her own experiences and is frankly unsure what is actually the result of sexism and what is simply a result of life and personal experience. This confusion is rather emblematic of young women in my generation, and seemingly for younger girls as well.

I would definitely recommend this book--it's fun, fast-paced, and indulgent. While there are references to drinking and sex, these topics are addressed in a frank manner that discusses their place in high school socialization, and does not glorify them at all--if anything it depicts drinking in a pathetic, boring way.