Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Without Giving Too Much Away: Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at Alabaster Prep, a fancy private school north of Boston. Tired of being called "Bunny Rabbit" by her family and fading into the woodwork at school, Frankie sets out to rattle some cages and make a few changes around campus. Along with the good ol' fashioned troubles of growing-up, Frankie manages to tackle issues of feminism, social activism, and non-conformity through the course of her sophomore year exploits.

Our Musings: Writing for young adults is a tricky business. Real life young adults are often already into adult fiction, and fiction actually written for them about kids their own age by well-intentioned adults can sometimes miss the mark. 

When I read the first few pages of The Disreputable History, I initially thought it had missed the mark. I was surprised when I read the scene where we first learn that Frankie is heading into her sophomore year because up until then I'd assumed a much younger main character. To me, the book felt written to a younger audience, a feeling reinforced by the coy (and unnamed) narrator who tells Frankie's story.

But still, I liked it. In some undefinable and quietly happy way, I just really liked it. I liked the story, I was intrigued by the cast of characters, and I wanted to find out what happened to them. I kept thinking about the book after I put it down - again in that same in that same undefinable and quiet way - and I looked forward to the next chance I'd have to pick it up again.

Really, it was Frankie herself who drew me in. How could she not? She's that particular teenage balance of precociousness and innocence. She's got spunk and the brains to back it up. I loved watching her turn over a new thought or idea again and again until it finally clicked into place. After the first few chapters of she settling into her own story, Frankie emerges (as she so desires) from the obscurity of normalcy and asserts her own unique and quirky presence in the order of things. Namely,  the staid social order at Alabaster Prep.

Above all, this is just a really solid book. My initial criticisms quickly faded as the story swept me up and Frankie became a person instead of a character. The book reads as honest and real, partly due to the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. It was funny enough in parts to make me laugh out loud on the bus. Which, as any commuter knows, is an ultimate endorsement of quality.

Recommended: Yes, definitely. This book feels right for middle-schoolers and high school freshmen and sophomores. I think it might be hit-or-miss with anyone older. It also seems most appropriate for girls - particularly precocious, slightly awkward ones. However, this isn't to say that young men wouldn't benefit from a glimpse at Frankie's blunt and feminist perspective, although they might not exactly "enjoy" it!

A note to parents: This book talks about sex and underage drinking. Neither are central topics in the book, but they are presented as issues that exist for teenagers and that Frankie must come to terms with.

Have you - or your kids - read this book yet? What were your impressions?

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