A witty teen novel filled with pranks, rebellion and gender politics from the international best-selling author of We Were Liars.
Emily Lockhart is the author of eight YA novels including the bestselling We Were Liars and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, a finalist for the National Book Award, and recipient of the Cybils Award for best young adult novel. She has a doctorate in English Literature from Columbia University and has taught composition, literature and creative writing. Her books have been translated into ten languages. Visit Emily online at emilylockhart.com and follow @elockhart on Twitter.
We have so many awesome YA authors in Australia that it is not often that I get the chance to read and review something from further afield. Emily Lockhart lives in the US and has built a stellar reputation for herself as a writer of fiction, having been the recipient of a number of national awards for this very title. Although first published in the US in 2008, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has recently been published and distributed in print in Australia making it broadly accessible to local readers.Broadly, this contemporary YA novel tells the story of Frankie who, between the ages of 14 and 16, attends an exclusive boarding school in the US. After spending her freshman year as virtually invisible, she enjoys popularity as a sophomore, having matured and attracted the attention of senior student Matthew Livingston. Frankie surrenders herself to life as the “accessory” for her new boyfriend until she is excluded from the all-male secret society on campus.
This title will undoubtedly hold strong appeal for John Green fans. Lockhart writes with a similar wit to Green on topics that are of universal interest to an adolescent audience. I found her style of narration fresh and unique with a quirky edge that had me turning the pages rapidly. Although I enjoyed the story immensely, at times I did find the main protagonist irritating (although not entirely unlikeable). To a large extent, this is yet another story giving voice to the privileged white middle class. Perhaps it is just me but I find the first world issues covered in many novels of this type a little superficial. That said, I did find the novel’s exploration of gender issues, specifically the way in which girls voluntarily allow themselves to become objectified, of merit.
Although well written and engaging, many Australian teachers will possibly find this novel too American for their personal liking. If you can overlook this, it might work well as a class text pitched towards Year 10 level. However, excerpts might be useful to explore issues such as social exclusion and gender equality in the classroom generally. Furthermore, this novel sits as a wonderful extension text for John Green fans, especially for senior students searching for a suitable pairing to sit alongside the likes of Looking for Alaska as part of their independent study.
Tanya Grech Welden, English Teacher, Gleeson College, SA 5125
At fourteen, Frankie is small, under developed and a bit geeky, but over the summer, boys begin to notice her and in her second year at the prestigious boarding school Alabaster, she attracts the attention of one boy, senior Matthew Livingstone, and joins his group. But has she? This tongue in cheek story has her being with the group in the cafe, going on clandestine excursions with them, but curiously simply being a part of the wallpaper. Biting commentary on the rich and famous at this school kept me reading as some, like Matthew, go to great lengths to never mention their wealth but it shows all the same. Their lives are laid out for them: a very exclusive school, then on to Harvard, later taking over the family firm. The smugness of Matthew and many of his male friends reflects the power that only the rich can command, and Frankie comes to realise that she wants to be part of it. But the girls are simply there as window dressing; to do as expected. But not so Frankie. The more she becomes involved with Matthew, the more the reader can see how one-sided the relationship is: his friends come before Frankie, a phone call from Alpha means Frankie is left alone immediately. Matthew has no interest whatsoever in her friends, home and family, and breaks dates with her without explanation.
Made of sterner stuff, she sets out to infiltrate their secret society, one that her father mentioned, The Loyal Order of Bassett Hounds. She inadvertently saw one meeting in progress, and resenting her lowly position within the group, decides to spy on them, a skill for which she finds she has some talent.Frankie infiltrates the all-male group, using Alpha’s name to send out plans that are carried out religiously. She causes mayhem on the campus, setting up audacious pranks, the dogs wagging their tails to her bidding. She finds the original book for the Loyal Order and things come to a head when she sees that people still think Alpha is pulling the strings.
A funny and biting look at the society within the elite school, Frankie’s character is wholly entertaining as she develops her powers, both within herself and over the boys’ secret society. A fabulous addition to the growing chick-lit stable of great literature, replete with discussions about societies, gender, words and power. Frankie’s interest in secret societies injects the background of this story as does her interest in words and their derivations and usages, all adding to the humour of the tale.
Fran Knight, Retired Teacher Librarian, Adelaide SA 5000
A very engaging read from Emily Lockhart. If students have read We Were Liars from the same author, they are sure to engage with this novel as well. The storyline follows Frankie and her personal development and mischief from ages 14-16, making the novel accessible for readers in years 9-12. Attending an exclusive boarding school in America, Frankie is determined to outwit her boyfriend’s male only secret club. The same club her father was part of when he attended the same school. Interestingly, a boy Frankie meets during the summer returns to the school, but at first, doesn’t acknowledge that they have met. This same boy is the ‘leader’ of the club and the boys assume they are following his orders, when they are actually following Frankie’s. Frankie’s pranks, use of technology, breaking of rules and her demands of school authority would certainly engage reluctant readers and have them turning the page. There are plenty of themes and issues to make this novel adaptable to units of work and class programs. It explores families, relationships, wealth, politics, growing up, school, belonging, societies, authority etc. It would be a valuable addition to school libraries, classroom reading boxes and reading clubs. While I think it is a fantastic read and recommend it, my only hesitancy is that it is ‘American’ and set in a very upper class white society and with the implementation of the Australian Curriculum, we have plenty of notable Australian authors that deserve a place in our classrooms.
Jodie Webber, Hurlstone Agricultural High School, NSW
After the success of E Lockhart’s novel We Were Liars, her 2008 novel The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has been reissued. Again we follow the journey of a teenage female narrator, but this is a very different voice. Frankie is a sassy character and most reviews of the novel focus on her as an empowered female voice and a feminist role-model for young girls. Frankie attends the prestigious Alabaster and the novel commences just before she returns to school for her sophomore year. Frankie is called Bunny Rabbit by her family and she doesn’t like the connotations associated with her nickname. She has undergone a remarkable physical transformation over the summer holidays and now the popular crowd are starting to notice her. Nothing has changed about Frankie’s incisive wit and keen intelligence, but it is only her physical appearance that impacts on the in-crowd and Frankie is ambivalent about this. She desperately wants to belong to this group, while simultaneously despising their superficiality. Soon Frankie begins dating Matthew – the archetypal privileged WASP – and her internal struggle continues. Frankie simply can’t understand why girls are not viewed seriously by these boys, even though she is clearly not an intellectual lightweight. As the novel progresses, Frankie’s behaviour becomes more daring and increasingly desperate.
I believe the novel is suited to Year 10 English extension students and it provides a wonderful opportunity to critique the issues of class, race and gender in this elite world of American boarding schools. The novel highlights the inconsistencies and inequities of this world, and questions the amorality that many of the characters represent. However, while I welcome the opportunity to study a strong female character who is incredibly well-read and very engaging, I question the ending of the book. Frankie’s solitary state and others’ questioning of her mental stability, could suggest that her behaviour has not empowered her at all, and has in fact simply alienated her. As a reader, I endorse her declaration that “She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be”, but the message that some readers might be left with is that to be true to yourself you need to be alone.
Lisa Black, English Teacher, Kelmscott SHS WA
Frankie Landau-Banks: the ‘rebel with a cause’. She’s brilliant, she’s attractive, she’s from a good family, she’s got a boyfriend, but there’s something she hasn’t got….an invitation to become and member of the schools’ secret society. To attain that privilege you need to be something Frankie can’t be. You need to be a boy! But, for Frankie Landau-Banks, that’s just another problem that needs a solution. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a feminist, girl-power tale. Frankie is very much a teenager trying to find her way in the world, whilst coming to terms with how she fits into a student way of life that doesn’t fulfil her need to feel included, and her desire to challenge the given norms.The writing in this novel is very entertaining, and the social dilemmas encountered could provide good topics for discussion with Yr 9 & 10 classes. Themes such as secrecy and exclusivity, what it feels like to be underestimated, whether to accept the given norms or become a force for change, are all issues that young people on the verge of adulthood may grapple with from time to time. The author captures the essence of a 15 year olds’ self-obsession very well. The desire to manipulate situations to her own advantage, whilst lacking the maturity to anticipate the possible, if not inevitable, consequences of her actions will ring true for many who have had dealings with young people. Worth considering as a class novel.
Debbie Williams, Library Technician, MDCS