The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockheart

Meh.  I think this book backfired on itself. Frankie Landau-Banks *should* be a kick-butt female character, but in the end, everything she thinks she is fighting against puts her back to being the girl who does everything to get a boy’s attention.

This is a boarding school book, which means that the characters all attend a fancy private high school where they live on campus in dorms, with no parents around, and little adult supervision.  Everyone likes to read these because it’s like a miniature college, or a pretend version of the “real world” but without any real responsibilities.  That said, because of this notable lack of adults, there are references to parties, underage drinking, and relationship issues.  (Like k-i-s-s-i-n-g! Eww! Well, it is a girl book after all. The book is published by Disney though, so there’s nothing too racy here.)

As a freshman, Frankie was mousy and nondescript, following in her older sister’s shadow. When she returns as a sophomore, she has changed over the summer and is ready to stand on her own and be noticed. The boy that she dates doesn’t really appreciate her intelligence; he basically pats her on the head and tells her how pretty she is and not to worry her pretty little head over things. Another boy also interests her because he challenges her intellectually, but he is unavailable and dating someone else.  He seems to be her enemy because he is constantly getting in between Frankie and her boyfriend, Matthew, and disrupting their dates.  It turns out that both boys are in a secret society on campus (which Frankie’s father had been a member of back in his day when he attended this private school, so she already knows about the society’s existence), but naturally it’s a boys-only club. Her goal is to get her boyfriend to tell her about the group and he won’t budge. She just wants him to admit that he is in the club, and that’s it.  She sees the club’s  pranks as being pretty lame, so she orchestrates an evil plot to take over the group from the outside.  She  sends the boys out on elaborate new missions via email by pretending to be one of the leaders.  The bothersome thing is that she does all of this tedious cloak and dagger, secret spy mission stuff to outwit the boys involved, but she is doing it to gain their attention and be acknowledged for her brain (and not just her looks.) She is working so hard at trying to prove herself to these guys that her motivation gets all screwed up and she loses sight of her purpose.  Her actions have unintended consequences, of course, and there is fallout for everyone. In the end, she comes off as being desperate and not a little crazy. Not a great role model. The book is full of feminist, girl-power messages, but she totally blows it.

Frankie does have one quirk that I did enjoy, and that is the way she uses words. She has a habit of removing prefixes from words and using the root words by themselves to create the opposite, even for words that don’t quite work that way. So if “disgruntled” means grumpy and upset, she’d use the word “gruntled” to describe feeling happy. I thought that was a clever quirk of her character, but otherwise her intelligence fails her as she gets wrapped up in her plot to gain attention from these two boys.

Read this book if you like to read about smart kids and you are interested in what it would be like to attend a school like this one.  It’s not a bad book, but I definitely didn’t love it.  I did enjoy the writing style, so that kept me reading through to the end.  This book is at an AR level of 5.5 and was a “top teen pick” on the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) 2009 list.

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