Last night Bear and I went to his friends’ apartment for a potluck dinner and an evening of board games. After the standard games of Taboo, Apples to Apples, and Dirty Minds, we decided to try our hand at a weird game called Quelf, which is possibly a game one should play when one is SHITFACED DRUNK or tripping on acid. Or else the creators of the game were possibly on some hallucinogenic drugs. Highlights from this game includes Bear and I have to repeat everything we say twice for the entire fucking game, Chris and his fiancée playing the air piano every time someone rolled a one, and Bear’s roommate Oz performing a bellydance for everyone.
Because I didn’t get around to it on Friday, my promised thoughts on The Disreputable History.
Review of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
There are a handful of books in the world that I wish I had written. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the latest addition to that list. It is so many things: a boarding school novel, a feminist novel, a bildungsroman, an incredibly intelligent and slightly pretentious in an endearing way novel, and just a damned good one. Along with What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, it was on the 2008 shortlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. While it didn’t ultimately win, this book moved me so much more. It’s been a long while before I shut a book and been unsettled in a good way. I felt “all shook up,” weird and quivery, as though E. Lockhart had somehow reached through the pages to touch a sensitive nerve, not quite like I wanted to cry, not quite like I wanted to laugh, and entirely like I needed time to set it aside and think about it.
The story is about Frankie, a sophomore at the prestigious Alabaster Prep who has recently begun to date the incredibly hot and intelligent senior Matthew Livingston. Over the course of their relationship, she comes to realise that he is part of an all-male secret society at Alabaster called the Loyal Order of the Basset Hound. Annoyed that as a girl she is not allowed into this exclusive club, she goes on her way to infiltrate their numbers and mastermind the most incredible pranks Alabaster Prep has ever seen. To abridge the blurb on the back:
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Her father’s “Bunny Rabbit.”
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.
This is the story of how she got that way.
E. Lockhart could have very easily made this an insipid piece of feminist claptrap of Girls are just as good as boys; we’ll show them! (and I say this as a proud feminist myself–I hate that sentiment) but she is much, much, much better than that. This is a story of a girl who wants to be one of the boys in the Old Boys’ Club, not merely content to be the pretty girl by her boyfriend’s side. But again, more than that, it isn’t as though Matthew does not acknowledge her intelligence, but the issue is that Frankie is underestimated. Aside from the feminist point of view, Lockhart also probes at the Old Boy culture, the fact that secret societies and fraternities are formed so that these boys, these future men, can form bonds and connections with each other, which Frankie’s father very bluntly points at the beginning of the book. But while Senior Banks might have benefited, it’s clear that girls won’t derive the exact same benefits from prep culture the way boys do. Frankie resents this and wants to be one of the boys, but not at the expense of her own essential femaleness either.
Thank you, E. Lockhart.
I have mentioned before that I have problems with many heroines in contemporary literature who are either narratively indistinguishable from male characters (i.e. men with tits) or contemptuous and ashamed of their femininity. Frankie does none of those things; she is first and foremost a logical strategist. She is Frankie first and foremost, not a girl and not a feminist. She is very smart, interested in civil engineering and its psychological implications, part of the Debate Club, and very much in love with her attractive, older boyfriend even as she comes to realise that he will never see her for who she really is.
I can’t do any adequate justice to the awesomeness of this book because this book encapsulates in a very short amount of space all my thoughts and feelings about feminism, growing up in a prep culture, and so much more. I will leave off my review with my favourite aspect of the book: Lockhart’s third person omniscient narration, which is rare and exquisitely executed.