Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Girl Power?: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Matthew had called her harmless. Harmless. And being with him made Frankie feel squashed into a box--a box where she was expected to be sweet and sensitive (but not oversensitive); a box for young and pretty girls who were not as bright or powerful as their boyfriends. A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with.

Frankie wanted to be a force.

Frankie Landau-Banks has a mind like a steel trap. She comes from a monied family and is getting an excellent education at an ivy-league private boarding school called Alabaster High. She has also, very suddenly and recently, turned pretty. Pretty enough to attract a popular, handsome and affectionate boyfriend. Life should be good, no?

Well, actually, no. Frankie is dissatisfied. Very dissatisfied. She loves her boyfriend Matthew but realizes early on that he, as she puts it, underestimates her. Worse, he excludes her from significant parts of his social and intellectual life (such as it is). When Frankie realizes that he and his coterie of male friends are part of a secret club that her father had once belonged to, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, she rebels against being left out of the old boy's network-in- the-making. Inspired by her class in "Cities, Art and Protest" and her reading of Michel Foucault (I told you she had a good brain) she decides to infiltrate the group. This is when the story really gets cooking.

Frankie manages to wrest control of the Loyal Order from its Alpha Dog, anonymously taking on a brilliant and utterly subversive leadership role. She also manages to locate the Society's secret and long-missing Disreputable History of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds by decoding the clues in the Society's oath of allegiance. She organizes a spectacular series of pranks and protests which Matthew and his friends obediently carry out, never suspecting who they are taking orders from. And she leads the real Alpha Dog on an increasingly frantic search to see who has usurped his identity.

This book has been described by some as a girl-power comedy, but I didn't read it quite that way. I found Matthew's reaction when he discovers in the end what Frankie has done quite ugly. In fact, I felt all along that Matthew was all wrong for Frankie. He was never going to "get" her, and he never really wants to. The misogyny these boys display without ever realizing it (or being called on it, until Frankie comes around), is unsettlingly convincing. In a comedy they would learn their lesson, but here they remain unchanged. Only Frankie grows in this story.

1 comment:

brave chickens said...

I tried reading 'The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks'/ For some reason, I couldn't quite get into it, even though the blurb and reviews said that it's a really good book.

Perhaps I'll give it another go... :)