Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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

Even as a desperately unhappy student in a Los Angeles public high school, I knew that the boarding school life was not for me. The idea of being forced to live with teenagers 24 hours a day with no escape was absolutely horrifying; sure, I was a teenager myself, but it was only a regrettable and temporary condition, soon to be rectified. Other teens, it seemed to me, absolutely gloried in their hormone-soaked, irrational, enclosed universe. I hated it and wanted out. Now.

Boarding school, from what I can tell through reading The Literature, is being a teenager to the nth degree. Living, eating, socializing, and attending class with your peers leads to a hothouse atmosphere that is like college dorms without the increased responsibility, rationality, and brain development that usually kicks in between the ages of 18 to 22. Scary! Plus you can probably count on most boarding school kids to be rich/spoiled, right? Unless it’s one of those schools for “challenging” children, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

Excellent fodder for YA books, however. British authors have been setting books at boarding schools for years, from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett through Harry Potter to Meg Rosoff’s What I Was and the upcoming The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson. South Africa produced the excellent and kooky Spud by John Van de Ruit, to be followed soon by (what else) The Madness Continues.

Although we don’t possess the strong tradition of boarding schools that the British do, American authors have jumped into the ring with John Green’s Looking for Alaska, the terrifying Waverly Academy of the Gossip Girls series by Cecily von Ziegesar, and adult books such as Cornelia Read’s The Crazy School (talk about the boarding school from hell).

Which brings us to E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. As in her previous books, Lockhart brings us a heroine who has a very unique and particular way of looking at her life. Frankie has an analytic and active mind, so she is not content to merely rest on her laurels when she miraculously (after becoming pretty and growing boobs over the summer) lands a gorgeous, smart, and nice Senior named Matthew. Most importantly, he is a big man at Alabaster Prep – his friends are not only the most witty and fun students on campus but are also (as Frankie discovers) members of a secret society called the Order of the Basset Hounds. They are also all guys – and Frankie, being female, is locked out.

Frankie discovers that there is nothing she detests more than not being taken seriously. Sure, the guys think she is cute and smart, but Frankie knows that isn’t enough. She wants total admittance into what she sees as the real circle of power and knowledge on campus – and so she discovers the secret history (unknown even to its current members) of the Basset Hounds, and proceeds to mastermind a series of outrageous pranks, attributing them to the Senior she most wants to impress – the enigmatic Alpha Dog. When all comes out, she becomes reviled by the very circle she wanted to join, but that turns out to be acceptable to Frankie. The main thing is, she has become notorious, and no one will ever underestimate her again.

Sassy, witty, fast-paced, and occasionally frustrating (WHY is Frankie wasting her considerable powers on impressing these chuckle-headed guys?), this is boarding school fiction at its best. Like all boarding schools, Frankie's Alabaster Prep is a great place to read about, but I wouldn't want to live there.

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