Monday, June 2, 2008

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

Two of my favorite themes in literature are coincidence and the search for identity --And when you get a book about how coincidence can have a part in shaping identity, all the better.

“How does a person become the person she is?” the narrator of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks asks, adding, “This chronicle is an attempt to mark out the contributing elements in Frankie’s character. What led her to do the things she did: things she would later view with a curious mixture of hubris and regret.”

We know from the outset of the story that Frankie has somehow infiltrated a secret all male society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, on the campus of her exclusive prep school and masterminded some borderline criminal pranks. The story explores the how and the why.

The how is where coincidence comes in. Her father was a basset hound and she’s heard his stories. Her new boyfriend, Matthew, is a basset hound and when he blows off a date, she follows him to a secret meeting. It just happens that her roommate’s boyfriend has the keys to all the off limit places on campus. She met the basset hound “king”, Alpha, on the boardwalk the previous summer and when he summoned away for a few days over Halloween, it gives Frankie the opening she needs.

The why is more complicated. Frankie is certainly tired of being treated like an innocuous “bunny rabbit” (her nickname) in need of protection. She’s recently blossomed into a knock-out young woman, but she’s not content to be anyone’s arm candy. She’s a firm believer in the equality of the sexes and it irks her to be shut out of “the old boy’s club”.

Frankie is a strategist, a debater, and someone who wants to be a real “off-roader”. She asserts her unique identity by using “neglected positives” (i.e. ept to mean skilled – from inept) in everyday speech, by challenging the unwritten rules of who sits where in the caf, and of course by covertly taking over the basset hounds.

Frankie is a great character – one that I immensely enjoyed spending time with. And this is an excellent book – one that begs for a sequel!

Run and pick this one up ASAP. You will not be disappointed.

Further reading: In case you are interested in the subject of identity, allow me to introduce my favorite poem on the subject: Who are you? by Russian poet Andrey Voznesensky. I have a feeling Frankie would really like it! (The parentheticals are my commentary)

Who are you?

Who are we – poker chips or giants? (Do we control our own destiny or are we controlled by fate?)
Genius in the bloodstream of the planets
No “physicists”, no “lyricists” exist – just "Pygmies" or "poets"
(labels aren’t important – do you have a vision, or not?)

Independent of our works, the epoch vaccinated us like smallpox
We are as worn out as racetracks.
(no matter what we do, we are a product of our time. But as humans we are linked by common emotions i.e. everything that we feel, has been felt before)

Who are you, who are you? Then,suddenly no?
On Venus an overcoat is irritating.
(there are many covers that hide one’s true self)

Starlings strive their best to crow—
Architects to be poet creators.
(what image do you project?)

And thawing their palms,
Poetesses run to be peddlers.
(Some give up their dreams for drudgery)

But what about you? What month is it?
You aim at the stars, but sweep at the puddles
School finished, pigtails cut
Became a salesgirl then chucked that.
(People are constantly changing so it’s hard to pin down their identity).

But between Stoleshnikov kiosks
As if playing “it”
Panting and puffing you stand
A deer, a tigress, a dim-wit!
(People might consider you to be one thing or another depending on their perspective and circumstances)

Who are you? who? You look with longing
Into books, windows—but where are you meanwhile?
You recline, as to a telescope,
to masculine eyes watching immobile....
(Who are we when we are figuring out what we want to be? Who is trying to mold you?)

I wander with you, Vera, Vega!
For, midst an avalanche let loose—
I too am an abominable snowman
Absolutely illusive.
(If you can’t even truly know yourself, how can you “know” other people?)

What are some of your favorite literary works that address the subject of identity?


Steph said...

I soooo wanna read this book!!!! Great review, Lenore :) You're only making my Disreputable fetish worse ;)


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for telling me about your review! Now I have even more reason to read it!

Melissa Walker said...

I really can't wait to read about Frankie. I saw E. do a reading and the scene she read (bras!) was hysterical.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Steph and Stephanie - you'll both love it!

Melissa - the bra scene IS great :)

Michele said...

Oooh, sounds good. I will go and request it.

Ali said...

Thanks for linking me to this review, I'm looking forward to reading the book now! I'm not a fan of coincidences in literature at ALL, LOL. I hope I'll love it anyway.

Woe is me, though--still missing from your blogroll... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well written article.