Filed under: News, Reviews, Contests | Tags: Carrie Rollwagen, E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
So many books for girls—even supposedly smart books for smart girls—insult our intelligence, if not intellectually than at least emotionally, slapping cookie-cutter characters over implausible plots and overly sugary endings. E. Lockhart‘s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the antithesis of these books.
(Here come spoilers; read at your own risk.)
We meet Frankie just before her fortunes turn from being an awkward, nerdy prep school girl to hanging out with the popular kids—especially a particularly fun, funny, smart group of guys. The boys just happen to have a secret society, a boy’s club that won’t admit Frankie. That doesn’t stop her from eavesdropping on the boys, following them, and eventually engineering some of their best pranks without them guessing her identity. When she’s revealed as the puppetmaster, her friendship with the boys is over. They ditch her unceremoniously.
Lots of reviewers have loved this book, and I’m no exception. The New York Times Book Review says it’s “a homage to girl-power, (offering) biting social commentary throughout—not the kind that deadens a story, but the kind that gives it punch.” I agree wholeheartedly … except for the bit about the girl power.
I think reviewers are missing the point when they say this book is about society’s double standard against strong women. Frankie’s pranks were ultimately offensive to the administration and the student body, not because they were engineered by a girl, but because they actually stood for something. These jokes weren’t “all in good fun.” They were powerful and political, and so they were volatile. I think this demonstrates the success of feminism, not the lack of it.
However, Frankie is rejected by her boyfriend and his friends precisely because she’s a girl. It’s not because the guys begrudged Frankie her intellect—they just didn’t want her around once she started using it. Take it from me, a girl who’s been friends with mostly guys for the past decade: Boys can be wonderful, creative, funny, and intelligent. But they often don’t know what to do with smart girls.
My guy friends are amazing. But I’ll never totally be a part of their inner circle. I’ll always be left out of camping trips and group scooter rides because I can never be one of the boys. But, because we watch the Simpsons together, because I can hold my own with their jokes, because I’m just a little too smart for my own good, they’ll never really see me as a girl, either.
These days, that’s okay. I can enjoy being a girl and hanging with guys. I don’t expect the boys to invite me to everything, and my feelings aren’t hurt when they don’t. I don’t expect guys to find my intelligence or my humor attractive, so it doesn’t bother me when they hit on girls who can recite their daily calorie counts on demand, but couldn’t find Iran on a map. (Okay, that still bothers me.)
The point is, I may be numb to these (unintended, I think) slights now, but it’s taken me a decade or so to find a balance. When I was Frankie’s age, it still hurt. A lot. That’s the reason I find her story so powerful.
Read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks as an outcry against inequality if you want, but to me the moral is a little different: The intelligence and independence that makes it hard for smart girls to be the “girlfriend” or the “buddy” are the same qualities that will help her change the world.
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