The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. 2008. Hyperion.
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Her father's "bunny rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society.
Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew's lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.
Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.
This is the story of how she got that way.
Why The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks Matters
I wish I’d had this book in high school. This Young Adult novel is an absolutely brilliant and unexpected look at coming-of-age, first relationships, and identity. Frankie is a wonderful character: witty, wry, loving, ambitious, and super smart. She makes some awesomely bad decisions in the name of getting people to see her the way she sees herself. Lockhart breaks the binary mold of teen girl characters who either want nothing more than a loving boyfriend and those who couldn’t be bothered to give boys the time of day (even though all the boys are secretly in love with her, of course). Frankie wants both. She wants power and glory on her high school campus and to be loved and adored by her older boyfriend. Because of this, she’s a much more relatable and realistic character than most young women are used to seeing in literature – even literature that’s written with them in mind.
The depiction of high school relationships is also impressively done. Matthew – Frankie’s love interest – isn’t a bad guy, he just isn’t mature enough to understand Frankie. The way Frankie applies her keen observations and the philosophy she learns in class to her understanding of her own life is brilliant. Lockhart gets at institutionalized power imbalances in boy-girl relationships in way that’s charming and funny, but still cutting and poignant.
I’m teaching this for the first time in my Women in Literature class this semester so I’ll report back about how it’s received!
Themes and Social Issues: gender dynamics, power, relationships, privilege, family tensions, identity, coming-of-age.
Literary Features: To me, the most interesting aspect of the writing style is the narrator. The book is told through a third-person narrator who primarily has access to Frankie’s thoughts, but occasionally gives readers glimpses of other characters’ interior lives. The narrator feels like a character through their humorous asides and wry social commentary, but Lockhart never introduces the narrator as a specific character. Interesting there’s also a lot of grammatical and linguistic commentary sprinkled throughout as Matthew is a grammar nerd and Frankie becomes obsessed with neglected positives about one-third of the way through the book.
Pairs Well With: The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice, Age of Innocence, coming-of-age units
Content to Consider: Pretty much nothing! Teen characters drink and Frankie is aware that some of her classmates are sexually active.
Grade Level Recommendation: 9th-12th
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