Friday, June 15, 2012
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher: Hyperion, 2008
Read for: FYA book club, Award-Winning Challenge
Frankie used to be unobtrusive, sweet, and intelligent. However, over a summer she grew into a face and a body that boys started to notice and even started dating the boy she'd crushed on the previous year who had seemed unreachable. However, as the year progresses, Frankie realizes that what people expect of her and what she is capable of are two entirely different things, and she realizes she wants more.
In some ways, The Disreputable History was a book that struck a chord with me. In my first degree (neuroscience), I was usually one of only three or four girls in a class of boys. I would go to study groups, and the boys would patiently explain things to me -- things I was miles ahead of them on. Usually I just laughed at them and let them explain, occasionally dropping in with a comment that would show them that actually, I didn't need their help. However, in Frankie's situation, when boys treat her like she is fragile, or only worthwhile in certain settings, she doesn't just roll her eyes and move on with her day. She takes action and makes history in her highly traditional private school. And honestly, I think it is awesome that she is willing to take charge that way, that she knows exactly what she wants (to be seen as an equal), and that she pursues it with no reservation (and with considerable imagination, I might add).
In the end, Frankie's story, while beginning because of a romance, is a story about being respected and getting to know oneself. I love that in a sea of YA fiction where many female characters have the solitary goal of being loved by a boy. (I know there are also many stories where the female characters do not base their lives on wanting to be loved. I also don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to be loved -- it's a basic human need. But I don't like to see people giving up their self-respect for love -- and that isn't love anyway, if you have to give up your self-respect. But now I'm getting extremely tangential. Not like that isn't the usual order of the day).
Another aspect of The Disreputable History that I just loved was the wordplay. Frankie reads a book by P.G. Wodehouse that cites "neglected positives" -- basically, the roots of words that have prefixes attached to them, but which are never used without the prefix (and which may not actually be words with true prefixes). For example, instead of saying she is pleased, she says she is "gruntled" (aka the opposite of "disgruntled"). Awesome, non? I love words, although I am not nearly as educated in their etymology as Frankie's son-of-a-newspaper-owner boyfriend, Matthew Livingston. In addition to the enjoyable wordplay, E. Lockhart is, quite simply stated, an absolutely phenomenal writer and lends to her work a sense of whimsy with greater significance and import behind it.
My one complaint with The Disreputable History is that despite the fact that I respected Frankie's cause and thought she was an awesome character, I never felt connected with her. I suppose in some ways she is not the most personable character -- she is acting as a criminal mastermind, and her emphasis is on craftiness and cunning, not warm and fuzzy relationships. The other books I've read by E. Lockhart have been written in the first person and I related strongly on many levels with the protagonist of those books, Ruby Oliver. I'm not sure if it was the third person or the fact that Frankie is just not a very warm character, but I didn't feel fully invested in her as a person. I was entertained by her story, I was moved by her problems, but I never felt as if I knew her.
Still, overall, a great book. It has a great message and is fantastically written. It is clear why The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is an award-winning YA novel.
Warnings: Some language, some casual mentions of sexuality and making out