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December 4, 2012
Read this YA Book If…
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by Erin Cowles

If you're already tired of the sentimental holiday books that often come out this time of year, try E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. It is witty, bittersweet, authentic, and anything but sappy.

Frankie Landau-Banks starts her sophomore year with flair, or so it seems. When she returns to her prestigious boarding school with a great figure and a sharp tongue, she attracts one of the most popular seniors on campus, and she enjoys entering his glamorous and carefree social sphere.

Despite this, Frankie feels unsatisfied. Her family and friends value her simplicity and charm, but she feels like there is a deeper part in her nature that they don't see or understand. So Frankie sets out, in her own way, to show them that she should not be underestimated.

Enter the Basset Hounds. When Frankie discovers that her boyfriend is involved with The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, the school's all-male secret society, Frankie's angst has a target. She decides to infiltrate, and without the boys knowing her identity, she leads them through a series of complicated pranks.

s her schemes escalate, she moves from simply flexing her muscles to protesting the world that she feels has pushed her out because she does not fit the “old boy” mold. But how long can she keep this secret, and can she hold on to her power if her identity comes out?

There is a little bit of PG-13 material in this one — references to minor characters drinking, using drugs, and being sexually active, although our protagonist doesn't participate herself. These activities aren't portrayed as glamorous, or even desirable. Frankie even finds the party with alcohol that she attends incredibly boring.

I can't honestly say that I liked Frankie. She is more calculating than I care to be, especially in her social interactions. I also agreed with Frankie's sister that Frankie should forget about the Bassets and build something better on her own terms. She clearly has the mind and the skill to do so.

But I think any feminist (or any human, for that matter) can relate to Frankie's struggle to come to terms with a world where her options and acceptable identities are dictated by her gender. Lockhart captures the heartbreaks and complex emotions in a way that rang true to my own coming-of-age feelings.

It took me some time to get into the narrator's voice, but by the end, I understood how perfectly it fit the story. The writing in the last chapter is stunning. The ending is discouraging, hopeful, heartbreaking, courageous, and above all else, authentic. Frankie looks honestly at the decisions she's made, celebrates what she has gained, mourns what she has lost, and moves forward purposefully.

All in all, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is a witty exploration of finding your role in society. Frankie asks many of the big questions in adolescent life: Is it better to speak out and suffer the consequences, or squeeze yourself into a role you don't fit in and enjoy the benefits? Is it really rebellion if it reinforces your dominant place in the social structure? Where do these social forces that influence your behavior come from, anyway? And how does personal growth influence your relationships with the people you love if they appreciated you for being someone else?

Read this book if...

Target audience: Girls, ages 12 and up

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