Reviewing E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

photo 1I can’t believe it has taken so long to get this book into the UK – I read it years and years ago and it’s one of the best books I have ever read. This new cover is beautiful (it ties in with E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars which is also an excellent book) and I had to buy a copy.

I read this book when I was tired of other YA books. I was tired of girls falling in love – eternal, everlasting love – at 16 and giving up everything for an idiot of a boy (not going to lie I am still tired of this. My reality is nothing like this). On the surface, this book fits into that mold – you have rich kids, boarding schools, and the very hot guy who is suddenly no longer unattainable. At this point I expected to not like Frankie; she fits into her boarding school with her skin colour, Daddy’s money, and good looks. I had no desire then and no desire now to read about privileged people spending money they didn’t earn.

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But underestimating Frankie, forcing her to fit into a box was a huge mistake on my part. She reads P.G. Wodehouse, rails against The Man, and is a feminist. Yeah, I love her. As a teenager I really loved her. She has style. And it’s a style I really really wanted (who am I kidding, I still want it). She transforms from a bland girl to an intellectual genius with a brilliant sense of humour and a potential ‘near-criminal mastermind’.

Frankie is supposed to play by the rules, but the rules were made for and benefit men and so she used her genius to subvert them. Her boyfrient Matthew and his best friend Alessandro (aka Alpha) are members of and run an all male secret society, the Loyal Odrer of the Basset Hounds. When Frankie finds the society’s Disreputable History, a record of their nefarious activities she realises that the oath they recite at the beginning of each meeting is far more than just some words they say.

Frankie is on a mission and through the course of the book she manages (using her genius) to get the society to do her bidding. They are her puppets and part of the tragedy of the book is that they all assume Frankie is a boy, because of course only a boy could come up with the things Frankie does.

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Of course things quickly change when the society discovers that she is the mastermind. And that’s when you quickly realise that their shock and anger has nothing to do with her manipulation but everything to do with her gender. The boys in the society hate the fact that they were outsmarted by a girl. When everyone thought Alpha was behind the genius schemes, everyone thought it was brilliant, when it was discovered that Frankie was behind it, it suddenly became phsychotic.

Observations like this are throughout The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Observations on the perception gender has. This book is a feminist novel with a witty, hilarious, tragically true social commentary running throughout it. Frankie is far braver then I ever was when I was a teenager – I would say I didn’t care about people’s expectations but she really doesn’t care. She challenged my image of myself, made me understand a little better the kind of person I wanted to be.

The wonderful thing about this story is that it doesn’t end with Frankie getting the boy of her dreams. It ends with her knowing that she can change the world. And E. Lockhart’s brilliance is that I believed, and still believe, this.

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