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    Review of THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart (see her blog)

    Hyperion, March 2008

    During the summer between her freshman and sophomore year, Frankie Landau-Banks grew four inches and added breasts. At her boarding school, she goes from being invisible (despite being the younger sister of an attractive senior the previous year) to sought after by the sexiest guy in the senior class--Matthew Livingston. Through her association with Matthew, Frankie can sit at the senior table, hang out with Matthew's popular friends, and bask in the envy of those not-so-lucky. There are a couple of complications, though. First, there's Alpha--who just might be the right guy for Frankie and who battles her for Matthew's attention. Second, she knows that her position is a gift--one that can be taken away. If Matthew dumps her, for whatever reason, she'll go back to being invisible.

    When Frankie discovers that the Basset Hound Order, an organization her father was a member of, and that still defines his business and social relationships, is still active at the boarding school, she also learns that the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship has its limits. Although Matthew professes to be crazy about her, he won't tell her anything about the Basset Hounds. So, Frankie decides she'll teach all of them a lesson--and at the same time send some subversive and veiled feminist messages to the school and the world. Assuming an e-mail identity that the Basset Hounds believe to be that of Alpha (and that Alpha, caught up in the cleverness of her ideas and the praise he gets from his fellow Basset Hounds doesn't deny), she directs them on a campaign of pranks and subtle protests that threatens to alter forever their school.

    Author E. Lockhart creates an intriguing and complex character in Frankie. Like any teenage girl, she wants to be accepted, to be popular, to be thought of as intelligent and worthwhile. Yet she faces institutions that remain stubbornly male, and that reward false rebellion more than the genuine article (the SUV purchase that shows that its owner could, although he won't, go off-road and climb mountains). Using the 'neglected positive' (e.g., if possible is the positive of impossible, then gruntle should be the positive of disgruntle), amusing pranks, and a believable look at the privileged world of high school boarding schools, Lockhard draws the reader into the story.

    There is, however, a distressingly literary twist to the story. In genre fiction, Frankie's rebellion would ultimately, through heroic efforts, lead to some sort of victory. But in literary fiction, rebellion is ultimately punished by the implacable system. In Frankie's case, the ultimate victory of the system is foretold in the confession letter that opens the novel. This twist makes the story deeper--hey, that's the point of literary fiction, but also sucks some of the joy out of a mostly funny story. Because the reader can see that Frankie's rebellion is doomed from the start, that she doesn't even have a plan that could lead to the results she wants, we're both forced to think about the society she (and we) live in, and cheated out of some of the enjoyment of that rebellion.

    Constructing a failed rebellion in the center of privileged represented by an elite boarding school (where the ultimate fear is that trouble in school may interfere with early admission at Harvard) is a bit audacious. Also audacious is Frankie's decision to risk the standing she achieved by being Matthew's boyfriend in an attempt to change the world--and to send a message that, ultimately, only her girlfriends were likely to understand. The irony was, she didn't need complicated hijinks to convince them--they already knew.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/18/08

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