THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart

Frankie Landau-BanksFrankie Landau-Banks at age 14:

Debate Club.

Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”

A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:

A knockout figure.

A sharp tongue.

A chip on her shoulder.

And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks.

No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.

Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.

Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.

Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.

When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.

And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:

Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.  (Add it on Goodreads)

Review

The thing with this book is, your opinion of it is going to hinge entirely on what you interpreted as the theme. Because the book focuses on Frankie’s frustration with being left out of her boyfriend’s strictly male secret society, and Frankie’s subsequent attempts to bust through the barriers into the club, a lot of people either love or hate The Disreputable History based on its take on feminism.

Fair enough. It does play around with the concept–Frankie wants into the Old Boys world, and her sister and roommate both have feminist streaks going on. But honestly, I think this story was more about Frankie as an individualist instead of Frankie as a feminist, and I think the whole book is much more interesting if you stick with that approach.

Frankie’s starting her sophomore year at Alabaster, a fancy prep school for rich kids who’re going places. Namely, the Ivy League schools. She’s always been intelligent and well-liked in her Debate Club circles, and she knew where she stood in that world. But over the summer, she’s metamorphosed from plain to stunning, and that changes how–and which–people view her.

When she catches a popular senior’s eye, she’s accepted into his circle of friends. But it’s not long before she realizes something’s up with them, and when Matthew cancels on her for evasive reasons for the millionth time, she decides to follow him.

That’s when she discovers Alabaster’s old, all-male secret society–the one she’s heard her father reminisce about–is still alive and lamely trying to kick.

When she tries to indirectly ask Matthew about it, he makes it pretty obvious he’s not going to let her in on it. I mean, it is a secret society. But Frankie takes this as a personal affront against her intelligence and her gender, and she decides to impress the society members so much, they’ll be begging her to join.

Basically, she does this by setting up a Gmail account impersonating the group’s leader. She uses it to contact the other members and orchestrate a prank on the school, which ends up being hugely controversial–and by extension, hugely successful. The group leader can’t exactly explain that the person sending out the orders is an impostor, because then he loses all the credit he’s received within the group for supposedly coming up with the prank.

So Frankie reigns on as puppet master, and the pranks keep coming. Granted, she doesn’t tell the secret society she’s the one behind the curtain, expecting them to somehow guess this, so maybe she’s not the expert planner she thinks she is.

The thing is, she didn’t decide to take over the club until about 75% into the book–before that, not much happened. Mostly, Frankie went to school, hung out with Matthew, and got frustrated when she felt like his friends only accepted her out of politeness to Matthew. Her life hobby seems to be obsessively analyzing and second-guessing everything anyone says–her Debate Club roots rearing their head, I guess–so there was plenty of that.

Even once she got to the pranks, she wasn’t actually the one carrying them out. She planned them and emailed her orders to the society boys, and the reader sees the aftermath the next morning along with the rest of the Alabaster population. But rampant gossip about the school’s beloved mascot statue being taken isn’t quite as exciting as actually sneaking around in the middle of the night and hauling the thing off, you know?

On the plus side, the dialogue was strong and had a witty, bantering feel to it. Frankie also has a thing for neglected positives of the English language–she has a love of The Muppets’ Animal that she will “parage” to the end, rather than disparage–and that was a fun concept that was woven well throughout the rest of the novel.

Sadly, though, I felt like the narrative was more of a social commentary than an actual story. It’s about Frankie going against the grain and using the pranks to send activist messages and trying to be an individual instead of a girl or student or girlfriend.

If you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll probably like this–it’s clever, and it knows it. But if you’re like me and the blurb’s “criminal mastermind” promise has you expecting an Allie Carter protagonist with a little Artemis Fowl flair tossed in, I think you’ll be disappointed.

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