I, Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. I take full responsibility for the disruptions caused by the Order–including the Library Lady, the Doggies in the Window, the Night of a Thousand Dogs, the Canned Beet Rebellions, and the abduction of the Guppy.
So begins The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2008) by E. Lockhart. (Find it on Bookshop.) Though, to be perfectly honest, the above confession is not truly the beginning of anything but the realization that Frankie might be a criminal mastermind. The real story in this book is how she got that way.
Frankie was content to spend her freshman year at the prestigious Alabaster boarding school as a quiet mildly geeky girl on the fringe of the Alabaster social hierarchy. Everything changes the summer before sophomore year when, thanks to a surprising growth spurt, Frankie returns to Alabaster with an enviable figure. Possibly due to that sudden change, or possibly a result of growing older, Frankie also returns to Alabaster as a more assertive, more determined girl. Specifically, Frankie is determined to be noticed–especially by the beautiful and outrageous senior Matthew Livingston.
When Matthew not only notices Frankie but also begins to date her, no one realizes that their relationship will set Frankie on a path of unprecedented mischief, mayhem and intrigue. It seems even less likely, to all concerned, that these events could eventually lead Frankie to her ignominious status of possible criminal mastermind.
All the same, that is exactly what happens. As Frankie finds her time with Matthew cut short again and again due to mysterious obligations and last minute meetings, she is determined to find out what is more important to Matthew than his own girlfriend. The answer proves surprising. Matthew belongs to a long-standing, long secret, all-male society at Alabaster called The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. In an attempt to get Matthew’s attention and respect, Frankie secretly infiltrates the organization’s inner workings to harness the power of the Dogs to her own ends.
What starts as Frankie trying to prove herself to Matthew and his zany senior friends, turns into something much more as Frankie begins to use the Dogs to perpetrate elaborate pranks to amuse the student body, yes, but also to promote change at Alabaster. At least, that’s the plan until Frankie’s complex web of lies begins to unravel.
The real beauty of this book is that there is never any doubt that Frankie is a strong character and a feminist. Indeed, most of the tension in this book comes from Frankie’s difficulties in negotiating the strong, feminist persona she has internalized and the external meek and adorable persona created for her by others. In addition to providing a heroine entirely capable of thinking for herself and standing on her own two feet, Lockhart also provides readers with a very humorous and exciting story. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks also offers a unique, albeit fictional, look at the inner workings of secret society found at many colleges and even in the works of P. G. Wodehouse (an inspiration for both our heroine and her author).
Some reviews have suggested that the pranks are ill-advised and even irresponsible on Frankie’s part. In a way, that is true–but only very superficially and only if readers completely overlook the deeper meanings and motivations behind each prank (don’t worry, Frankie is happy to explain all of that!). There have also been remarks that the language here is unrealistic to ordinary teens–also possibly true except for the fact that Alabaster is a haven for precocious and privileged teenagers, likely placing them at a remove from the “ordinary” teens who would be loathe to utilize speech patterns seen here.
The 2009 book awards season was hard for me this year as many of my favorite books and predicted contenders were beaten out by books I had not yet read by some of my favorite authors. Having read the 2009 Printz Award winner Jellicoe Road previously, it is easy to see why E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2008) was selected as a 2009 Printz honor book. The titles have a lot of similarities. Were I not already deeply fond of the Printz winner I would say this book should have received the top honor. No matter which becomes your favorite, it is fair to say that if you like one, the other is sure to please.
Possible Pairings: Foucault, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, Paper Towns by John Green, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford