I first read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart years ago, around the time I’d just started Erin Reads. I didn’t end up reviewing it, despite the fact that I had a lot to say about it.
Then, just a few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend, and something in our conversation made me think of this book. I couldn’t remember more than the barest details and the certainty I’d had a problem with the ending, but I mentioned it to my friend. She ended up reading and loving Frankie’s story. Never one to turn down a bookish conversation, I reread the book so we could talk about it. And this time around, I’m writing about it here, too!
About the Book:
When we meet Frankie Landau-Banks, she’s standing at the threshold of her sophomore year at Alabaster, a prestigious boarding school. Attendance is something of a family tradition; her big sister, Zada, just graduated, and her father, Senior, still relives his Alabaster glory days with friends on a regular basis. No one expects Frankie, known as “Bunny Rabbit” to her family, to do anything but keep her head down, study hard, and graduate with all the advantages and connections a place like Alabaster can provide.
Except that Matthew Livingston, the gorgeous senior Frankie had a major crush on last year, has finally noticed her. More than noticed her. And with her newly gained access to Matthew’s world, Frankie starts down a path of challenging norms and thinking for herself that will lead to some unexpected places.
I’m so glad I reread The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. And that’s saying a lot, coming from someone who generally does not reread. Revisiting this one reminded me what I loved about the book as well as the precise nature of the problem I had with the ending. Let’s start with the former. (And don’t worry, I’ll warn you before I launch into spoilers!)
The Delightful Bits
Overall, I really enjoy E. Lockhart’s writing style. She writes intelligently and and cleverly. It’s clear she has issues to discuss, which for many authors can turn a novel into a thinly veiled soapbox speech. Yet Lockhart manages to blend the topics she wants to address with teenage-relevant stories you can actually believe. She really does weave her points so tightly into Frankie’s story that you cannot remove them without damaging the novel. My favorite? Society as panopticon, in which each person feels s/he’s always being watched by all the others and acts accordingly. Brought up as a topic in one of Frankie’s classes, this idea sinks its teeth into Frankie’s mind and seeps deep into the events that follow.
I haven’t read Lockhart’s other books, so I don’t know whether they share the same self-aware quality Disreputable History possesses. But there’s something delightful about a book that will acknowledge its own existence or an author (fictional or not) who will interpose herself into the story as needed. Just a short, spoiler-free example of what I mean:
“Most of the time they were joined by Elizabeth, Tristan, and Steve (both lacrosse players and relatively unimportant to this chronicle).”
It’s like we have a co-conspirator, a guide. Disregard Tristan and Steve. Noted.
There’s also Frankie’s love of neglected positives, imaginary neglected positives, and false neglected positives. As someone who likes to play with language, I was tickled to find a multi-page grammatical tangent plopped into the middle of an argument between characters explaining how Frankie defines these (examples included). Allow E. Lockhart to explain in a few snippets:
“Prefixes like ‘in,’ ‘non,’ ‘un,’ ‘dis,’ and ‘im’ make words negative, yes? There may be grammatical particulars I am not addressing here, but generally speaking. So you have a positive word like ‘restrained,’ and you add the prefix ‘un’ to get a negative: unrestrained…
“When there’s a negative word or expression — immaculate, for example — but the positive is almost never used, and you choose to use it, you become rather amusing. Or pretentious. Or pretentiously amusing, which can sometimes be good. In any case, you are uncovering a buried word. The neglected positive of immaculate is maculate, meaning morally blemished or stained…
“Other times, the neglected positive is not a word. It is then an imaginary neglected positive, or INP (inpea)… Impetuous means hotheaded, unthinking, impulsive. The positive of it doesn’t exist, so you can make a new, illegitimate word.
“Petuous, meaning careful.”
And so on. Amusing, no? (Or are you in Camp Pretentious?) The various flavors of neglected positives are everywhere, if you’ll only keep an eye out for them. If you’re curious, by the way, this was the bit that came up in my conversation with my friend, which in turn sparked my reread of the book.
The One Bit that Bugged Me
As I mentioned, I had a problem with the ending. Not the whole ending, even…just one aspect of it. What didn’t sit right with me was the way Lockhart sequenced her ending.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!
Long story short, I wanted Frankie to have the chance to turn herself in. I believe when she found out Alpha was taking the fall for her, she would have turned herself in given the chance. It wouldn’t have been weak, or a sacrifice, or forced, or anything like that. It would have been the final piece of Frankie’s transformation. She would have been stepping into her new identity and fully owning her actions. That was taken from her when Matthew turned her in instead.
How do I wish it had played out? Matthew visits Frankie in the infirmary, where he tells her about Alpha. But instead of revealing her secret then, Frankie waits until she’s out of the infirmary and then turns herself in. When Matthew finds out, he confronts her, and that is when the argument from the infirmary happens.
That’s all. The rest of it can stand. But it bothers the heck out of me that Frankie’s power was taken from her the way it was. And as soon as I read it the second time, I knew that’s what had bugged me the first time through, too.
The Verdict: Enjoyable
Despite my issue with one of Lockhart’s decisions regarding the ending, I can’t say how much I enjoyed The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. It’s smart, satisfying, and not afraid to take on heavy subjects.
I haven’t read anything else by Lockhart, but the friend who read Disreputable History after our conversation went on to read most of Lockhart’s other books and said they’re all good. So I’m pretty sure at some point something by E. Lockhart will end up on my nightstand again.
Are you an E. Lockhart fan? Or is there a book you’ve read that had just one single feature or event that bothered you?