Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. LockhartPublisher: Hyperion (2008)
I'm a bit late here. Both in that it's Wednesday, and so past SBD, and in that I read this months ago and am just getting to it now. Thankfully I read this on my Kindle so I can click on the handy notes section and read over my copious comments. And even though it's late, I'm hoping the SBD crowd will still be willing to share some thoughts because I'm the odd woman out on this one in that I didn't like it as well as others.
First, a shout-out to Kate for bringing it to my attention. I would not have read it otherwise and, even though I didn't end up liking it, I was interested by it and glad to have read it. Instead of giving a summary I'm linking to this short review because the summary is excellent and because the reviewer had a completely different reaction to the book than me so it's a good counterpoint.
The thing I liked best about this book is that I found it very emotionally authentic. I can't speak to the boarding school experience but some of the things Frankie thought/said I remember hearing from my girlfriends. That part of the book was very impressive to me as I rarely feel that way when reading books set in high school. However, the supposed girl-power aspect of the book was completely non-existent for me. I have notes in relation to this at any number of points throughout the book but the most telling is the one that says "Does Frankie even like women, does the author?" Ouch! Hard to muster up my feelings of empowerment when I don't feel like the protag or the author values women.
Here's what it came down to for me: Frankie's motivation is to attain acceptance into a guys' club (very often, specifically to get personal validation from one particular guy). As in, rather than get her own life she's trying to get a guy's. I found this to be one of the emotionally authentic aspects of the book as I knew (and, sadly, know) many women who seek "empowerment" through undermining "feminine" pursuits and proving they are "strong" too by trying to be "one of the guys." I actually don't care what people do - whether it's traditionally seen as a "guy" thing or a "gal" thing - as long as what they do is for themselves. The entire time I was reading I kept wondering why Frankie didn't start her own secret society (or not secret, whatever) and use her cleverness, determination, and information to control the Basset Hounds. Cuz how stinking funny would that be? Instead she seemed more obsessed with Matthew not talking to her about what was going on than in being her own person and being valued for who she is.
I completely agree with Frankie that she was suffocated by a male-dominated institution. I completely agree with her that she was underestimated and marginalized by several people in her life. But, again, instead of seeking out those who saw and valued her she aligned herself with those who diminished her. When she's bitching about the way Matthew treats her what am I supposed to think but LEAVE HIM? She kept acting like he was happening to her and seeming not to realize that his presence was under her control. Also, she was often put out by his loyalty to friends he had had for 4 years. I actually re-checked the timeline and when they had been dating for 2 months she was bitching about him keeping things from her that he would only discuss with his friends. Two months!!!! Maybe I'm close-mouthed but I certainly don't start spouting off all my personal business to someone I've known for two months.
And then we get to the most frustrating scene in the book. It's the end, her shenanigans have been discovered (shenanigans which were awesome and hilarious, btw) and she's having it out with Matthew. At this point I'm so disgusted by the attitude that I felt was pervasive throughout the book that I about died when Matthew, the guy, gets to make a valid point. Now, it should be said that I don't like Matthew. Maybe one day he'll figure things out and turn into someone decent but he's immature and self-centered for the entirety of the book (I thought less of Frankie for dating him much less for working so hard to get his attention) so he's not exactly someone you ever want to be siding with but when he asks who/what she was being loyal to he's making a good point. He's saying it badly because he's immature and self-centered but the point remains: when she's doing all this behind his back why does she think it's something that will impress him? (Why he describes it as sick and psychotic I have to assume is because his pride is hurt because what she did was brilliant. It's the motivation that drove me nuts.) Conversely, how upset can I get when Frankie feels like he's been lying to her all this time? He's a jerk, break up with him. Also, they hadn't been together all that long, he's had these other friends forever; what is the big deal about him having something with them that he does not have with her? People should have their own lives; Frankie should have got her own life. I for one would have enjoyed her antics much better had she been doing them for herself.
I have so many notes and comments and annoyances here but I was trying to stay concise and mostly be brief which I hope doesn't mean that I ended up not really conveying my point at all. One final comment: At one point I found the undervaluing of the feminine so intense that I thought maybe the author was getting around to that lesson. Frankie learns at the end that to define herself and her value by the men and system around her (a system she identifies as broken) isn't a productive path to empowerment. But no. To me, it seemed that she learned that she needed to have done better at being an imitation guy. *sigh*
rating: 2 of 5 stars