What fun! A 2008 National Book Award FInalist and a Cybils Young Adult Fiction FInalist, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is also just a good read. Frankie herself is an intriguing and complicated character, and I enjoyed getting to know her.
The premise is fairly simple: over the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at the exclusive prep school, Alabaster School, Frankie blossoms. As she returns to school in the fall, she attracts the attention of senior heart-throb and very rich kid, Matthew Livingston. But Matthew’s friend, Alpha, is either (1) jealous of Matthew’s attention to Frankie or (2) attracted to Frankie, too. And somewhere in the mix is a secret society called the Loyal Order of Basset Hounds that Frankie feels she must infiltrate even though it’s all-male and probably close to being defunct anyway.
This novel is a FInding Yourself story, a Coming of Age tale, a Boarding School genre entry, and an all-round good time book. Frankie is typically insecure and desirous of acceptance by her peers, and yet she finds the inner resources to break out of the mold and become someone that no one would expect her to be. The story is comedic, but it has serious undertones and themes.
Frankie is something of a feminist, without the stridency of some of that ilk, and she’s also interested in power and influence and in how those attributes are acquired and how they are wielded. She’s sharply observant, and yet vulnerable enough and young enough to be unsure for most of the novel about what she wants and what she’s willing to do to get what she wants.
Some people were annoyed by the novel’s point of view; it’s told in third person, present tense from an omniscient narrator point of view. But the real vantage point is Frankie’s. Even though the story’s narrator takes a sort of detached, long view of events, Frankie is the only one whose thoughts are related and whose motivations are explained. I liked the playfulness of the narrator’s voice explaining the changes in Frankie’s life while showing us the results of those changes in the action of the novel. Here’s a sample quotation, and you can decide how you like the way the story is told:
“Most young women when confronted with the peculiarly male nature of certain social events — usually those incorporating beer or other substances guaranteed to kill off a few brain cells, and often involving either the freezing-cold outdoors or the near suffocating heat of a filthy dorm room, but which can also, in more intellectual circles, include the watching of boring Russian films — will react in one of three ways . . . but Frankie Landau-Banks did none. Although she went home that night feeling happier than she had ever been in her short life, she did not confuse the golf course party with a good party, and she did not tell herself that she had had a pleasant time.
It had been, she felt, a dumb event preceded by excellent invitations.
What Frankie did that was unusual was to imagine herself in control. The drinks, the clothes, the invitations, the instructions, the food (there had been none), the location, everything. She asked herself: If I were in charge, how could I have done it better?”
Frankie eventually takes charge, and, you should know, she is a fan of P.G. Wodehouse. So how could she be anything but endearingly witty and entertaining?
Brown Bear Daughter loved this one, too. I thought it was the best of the YA Cybils finalists I’ve read so far.