Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Disbanding the Boys' Club
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
National Book Award finalist 2008, Printz Honor Book 2008
The titular Frankie Landau-Banks is a devious mastermind behind a semester's worth of pranks carried out by secret societ the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. Vaguely familiar with the Order, as her father was a member during his school days, and inspired by the Cacophony Society after doing a project about them for one of her classes, Frankie decides to turn the orderly world of her prep school on its ear, including the boys-only Basset Hounds.
As per usual, this book had been on my "want to read" list for a while, but it was book club that provided the impetus for me to finally do so. While I have read some reviews complaining that the writing could be overly pretentious at times, I found the writing to be one of the novel's greatest strengths. Though at the beginning the novel occasionally fell into the frame of the typical teen romance novel, I appreciated that Ms. Lockhart was confident enough in her readers' intelligence that she devoted an entire chapter to false positives, both real and imagined. I suppose such chapters, as well as the references to the panopticon, are why some view this work to be pretentious.
I didn't find Frankie to be a likeable character, and I could not relate in any way to her desire to break the rules. I also was somewhat disappointed that the novel seemed to assert that those women who choose to engage in feminine activities were doing so only to appear to the men in their lives to be proper women. I certainly shall never deny that a number of women do dress certain ways or, for example, pretend to be less intelligent than they actually are, to attract men. However, to conclude that there is little, if any, personal enjoyment to be found in feminine activities bothered me. In my frilly Victorian-esque dresses, I suppose I appear to most like a lost Disney princess a la Enchanted, but I choose to be this way for no one save myself. I wonder what Frankie would think of such individuals, as she seemed to have such disdain for the other female characters in the book.
While I can understand her desire to be involved in the same activities as the boys, I really felt that she only wanted to be involved in order to assert her superiority over them. She criticized Matthew for keeping secrets from her and for treating her like a pet, but she didn't seem to have much respect for Matthew as a person either. Her interest seemed purely superficial to me, which is probably why I found her so hard to like. I hated her double standards.
Despite my disagreement with the author as stated above and my difficulties with Frankie, I highly recommend this book. Girls should read it for its empowering message (even in the guise of the misguided protagonist), and boys should do so to better understand the obstacles that still impede women from being true equals with men even now.