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on 9 August 2011
ooh... secret societies and gender politics...

If you're female and between the ages of about 12 and 25, I cannot think of a single reason why you shouldn't read this book. It's fantastic. Both highly political and incredibly funny - it's the book I wish I'd been given to see me through being a teenager and to prepare me for later life. And no, I never went to an elite prep school with a bunch of stuffy trainee 'old boys' and a 60 year old all-male secret society... but I, like every girl I know, could have done with the reassurance that being your own person is more important than fitting the mold and that women are worth more than just a chest measurement. The story spoke to me on many levels and addressed issues that I have written articles on and feel very strongly about.

On the surface, it's a high school tale of cliques, first loves and mischief - quite like the author's The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver and the other Ruby Oliver books. I enjoyed reading about Ruby and frequently related to her but, for me, Frankie Landau-Banks was all the more kick-ass, funny and just so memorable. She's a 5-star heroine and the perfect partner in crime... if only she were real.

The writing in this novel was flawless with some hilarious dialogue between the characters, particularly regarding some of Frankie's ridiculous neglected positives, it's such a silly idea that shouldn't be so funny but I have no idea how many times I must have laughed. Little scenes like this are what made the book for me:

"They're not puppets, they're muppets," said Frankie. "I have a serious and justified love for Kermit that I will parage to the end."
"Parage?"
"Parage. The neglected postive of disparage."
"You mean defend. You will defend Kermit to the end."
"Parage."
"Praise?"
"Parage. I will parage him. And Animal, too. I love Animal. I used to watch that show on DVD all the time when I was little."
Trish changed the subject. "We should do facials and paint our toenails Friday before they pick us up. What do you say, blow through dinner and come back here for girlie stuff?"
Frankie said, "You're on. When we're finished, we'll be absolutely sheveled."
"You'll be sheveled," said Trish. "I'm a normal person."

I mean, come on, that's funny. And she's so effin' stubborn it's great. I just loved Frankie and loved the plot and loved the book. I took notes on the damn thing. No, really, there are parts of this book that you just have to note down. By 'you', of course, I actually mean me.

I also want to point out for all you cynical people who "bah humbug" at novels set in high schools following a girl through her relationships and pranky misdeeds... this really is a great political statement. But it's in the dialogue and Frankie's awesomeness that it's revealed, sometimes subtle and sometimes not. My favourite thing about it is how the school represents today's society as a whole and the truths about the equality myth. Because, sadly, even though men and women are supposed to have the same opportunities and they are now allowed into the same professions, they sit at the same tables and they even become friends, beneath it all there is still an inner circle - rather like a secret society - that continues to slam the door in a woman's face. But better than this metaphor is the message behind it: that if you put your mind to it, you don't have to accept the way things are. That you have the ability to change the way of the world. Or the way of a prep school. Like Frankie does.
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Frankie Landau-Banks has gone from geeky to gorgeous over the course of the summer, and she can hardly believe it when Matthew Livingston, the senior she worshipped from afar the year before, seems interested. But being Matthew's girlfriend comes with a lot of things Frankie didn't expect. She feels uncertain navigating the complicated politics of his social circle, and uneasy with the antics of his friends, which often seem to exclude her. Worst of all, she senses that he's not letting her all the way into his life--that, because she is a girl, he will never see her as an equal.

Then Frankie discovers that Matthew is a member of the school's exclusive--and male-only--secret society. At first she only spies on them out of curiosity. But as her desire to prove herself every bit as capable as Matthew's male conspirators grows, she finds herself getting wrapped up in the society's business of sneaking and pranking, without any of the boys suspecting a thing.

With Frankie pulling the strings, anything is possible.

THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS is one of those rare books that is equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. Frankie's exploits are full of humor, suspense, and drama, but she's not afraid to stop every now and then and consider the consequences of her actions. Her insecurities make her as believable as her smarts and her guts make her admirable. Readers will be cheering her on from beginning to end--and wondering how the things she learns along the way might apply to their own school adventures long after they've put the book down.

Reviewed by: Lynn Crow
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on 15 August 2014
One hundred million stars. I really wish I'd read this when I was about thirteen because it would have completely changed my ideas on relationships and social roles and feminism in a way I've only really started thinking about in the last couple of years.
This book is one I wish I had written, because it's completely turned around the 'high school romance' trope and turned it into a well written, funny, concise and enthralling look at women in a patriarchal society and I want everyone to read it.
Did I mention it's really funny too? Because it is. It's.....perfect.
One thing I will mention is the slightly strange prose choice. The tenses sometimes seemed odd and there was an unknown narrator which only made it worse? I dunno, I read it pretty fast so maybe it was just me but it could have done with a little editing in tense choices.
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on 15 June 2011
I read this in a single day, 'twas brilliant. A careful picture is painted of the social dynamic/power found between the genders, highlighted in the rich, high achieving setting of the book. There are so many brilliant scenes, so many brilliant thoughts from Frankie. Also a brilliant book for anyone who loves words, due to Frankie's adoption of words without the prefix, as found when "[plot detail] made her feel delible".
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on 21 August 2011
This book is one of the best YA books I've ever read.

I just finished a degree at a university that is overrun by all-male drinking and dining societies, by Old Boys, and found myself kind of charmed and repulsed by it at the same time. Naomi Alderman wrote an article about all-male drinking societies and the like in the Guardian last year and wrote this:

"I remember my own bitter disappointment when male members of the Jewish Society - my refuge from sometimes bruising college life - decided to resurrect a defunct all-male Jewish dining society. "It's just a jokey thing; you could always set up an all-female one," men I'd thought were my friends told me, apparently failing to notice how with one stroke they'd divided the group along playground lines."

It's something that a lot of people don't think about. But they should. Why would you need to jokily shut women out just for being women? Where's the joke? Just acting in a way that men have acted for the rest of the history, acting on history's side. That's not joking, that's conforming. The book does a great job at showing these boys, who are privileged and funny and nice and unaware of how unfair they are, or at least uncaring and unyielding.

Except they're not all the same, and Matthew may be like that, but Alpha? Who knows what Alpha thinks. Because the characters are all characters, and despite a lot of exposition and explaining of what's going on in Frankie's head, it never feels like a treatise. It's a fun, quick read, that just happens to have all of these issues quivering and unmistakeable within.
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on 15 August 2011
The cat put off writing a review of E. Lockhart's The disreputable history of Frankie Landau-Banks because she has been conflicted about this novel ever since she was about half-way through it. Still not sure whether to give this book * or **** stars, here's the best the cat can do to explain what made this book into such a disreputable history for her.

A while back, E. Lockhart already succeeded in confusing the cat in a similar way with the fairly underwhelming Dramarama. If memory serves her right, in this book, a rebellious main character gets kicked out of school for speaking up...and the other main character actually agreed with the punishment the aforementioned character got for speaking her mind. Needless to say, this was a message the cat could not live with....but The disreputable history of Frankie Landau-Banks got such overwhelming reviews, and ended up a National Book Award finalist and a Michael L. Printz Honor book, so why not give E. Lockhart another chance?

Frankie is 15, a sophomore at the highly prestigious Alabaster prep school, a patriarchal stronghold of Old Boy values, complete with secret all male club, The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, to boot. Though she's obviously a girl, Frankie knows about the club because her father - who, along with most of the other characters thinks of her as Bunny Rabbit - used to be a member. He still thinks fondly about the (innocent) mischief they were up to, as well as the many friendships he developed there, not to mention the Important Business Relationships that started to shape during his time at Alabaster and especially when he was pulling pranks with the Loyal Order.

The omniscient narrator of the story is not very subtle about his/her intentions and states: "How does a person become the person she is? What are the factors in her culture, her childhood, her education, her religion, her economic stature, her sexual orientation, her race, her everyday interactions-what stimuli lead her to make choices other people will despise her for?" (p. 107) As such, what we get are the single individual events that form Frankie's character and how she ended up evolving from a slightly geeky harmless Bunny Rabbit, into a subversive rebellious teenage girl who doesn't take no for an answer, especially when that means that she's excluded from the all male society that her boyfriend - the most popular senior at Alabaster, surprise, surprise - also belongs to.

Any doofushead can see that this book could easily be replaced by Feminism 101, so it shouldn't be surprising that many people see this as the ultimate girl power book. Frankie is intelligent, she knows what critical thinking entails, and is not afraid to act on her thought processes. It is not because she's a girl that she would not be capable of doing the things that the boys in the club do...heck, she can do them better, even. The acts of civil disobedience that Frankie engages in are all targeted at making the reader aware of the double standards in the still patriarchally run society and to make the reader think about refusing to accept your supposed gender role. Frankie sees that the world thinks in male boxes and female boxes, and realizes that it will probably continue to think like that. That doesn't mean that she should, though. I get it. On the strictly cognitive `makes you think' level, this book works fantastically.

Where E. Lockhart has lost me, however, is first of all in the narration of the story. I feel that the 3rd person omniscient narrator decided for us and for Frankie what the important events in Frankie's evolution to `criminal mastermind' (which is how she's described toward the end of her rebellion) were. I hope that E. Lockhart can see the ambiguity here, though... Frankie is rebelling against her supposed gender role, yet you call her actions `criminal'... Is this the saying of the (male?) omniscient narrator, or the (female) writer E. Lockhart? The omniscience of the narration, moreover, takes away any form of freedom from oppression that Frankie is aspiring to. In a way, it reduces Frankie once again into being "sweet and sensitive (though not oversensitive)". Once again Frankie is "squashed into a box (...). A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with."

On another level, this book didn't work for me either. It's not really about the likeability of Frankie - though it really is extremely hard to feel sorry for the poor little rich girl's problems that Frankie seems to have. Here her sister Zada is absolutely right when she says "why even care?" Let Matthew have his little secret male club. Frankie should be off mapping out her own future, rather than wanting to get back at her boyfriend for not including her. Anyway, I don't mind not liking Frankie. She's basically a spoilt brat and just wants to have her cake and eat it too. But the fact that all of this plays in such an exclusive environment of the Old Boy prep schools doesn't make it a very credible book to me. OK, patriarchal society can there be seen on a micro-level, I'm sure, but how much girl power can you put in a book when the main character doesn't have to worry about such trivial things like money or the consequences of her actions?

The cat realizes that much of what Frankie has to go through is probably still painfully truthful: in a still male dominated world, regardless of the environment you are in (New England prep school or inner city ghetto, whatever), the realization that your life is partly run for you based on what is expected of you, can wear you down. Frankie realizes this. She doesn't accept it, but she realizes that this is how the world turns...still today. I wish E. Lockhart had taken the next step too, though. Even though the narrator says that Frankie will grow up to change the world, I don't feel it on an emotional level. The stand-offish narration made this impossible for the cat. * or ****? Still not sure.
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on 14 June 2010
The bastard child of Attwood's `Handmaid's Tale' and the `Chalet School' series. Elements of mystery and adventure stories, mixed with a healthy dose of feminist reality pervade this teenage fable set in an exclusive American private school with a boys-only secret society at its heart.

Tired of being excluded from the inner workings of her new boyfriend's clique of alpha males, Frankie Landau-Banks succeeds in piercing their veil of secrecy and begins to shake things up for the staff and students at Alabaster Prep.

Lockhart's triumph is in having Frankie undo the corset of expectations, the gamut of aspirations and constraints that family, friends and communities lace women and girls up in, and demolish it eagerly. Frankie herself is not a self-conscious feminist, but rather a postmodern feminist faced with a less-than-modern boy's club.

Writing in deceptively accessible English, Lockhart relates a carefully subversive story that most teachers couldn't justify confiscating- but it might just start a revolution if the right people read it.The book's themes mean it is probably most appropriate for women and girls aged 12+, although it will probably speak more to those with life experience on their side, not least because of the wry, witty commentary from the book's 'narrator',who I strongly suspect is in fact an older Frankie.

With that in mind, I hope to see further instalments documenting her career and time at college emerge in years to come.
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on 11 June 2010
This book was a nice surprise, the writing is brimming with alertness and a sharp intelligence that isn't often found in 'romantic shcool fiction' which is often a genre that I steer clear of.

I best describe this book as a 'modernistic' Jane Eyre, or perhapes a more doeful Blyton...

My review clearly will not do this book justice, but here goes:

Frankie Landau-Banks has finally blossomed over the summer, and has finally been recognised as a beautiful woman by the much-worshiped senior, Matthew Livingston. Navigating the bizarre politics of his 'boyish' social circle, and juggling her own insecuries, Frankie tries her best to 'make a name' for herself.

She discovers Matthew belongs to the schools anicent secret society, which excludes all forms of female presence. And a game of cat and mouse begins...

This book explores the joys of 'sneaking and pranking' but it is very much a book for older readers. The writing style is snappy and will easily be lapped up by those with a strong fondness for witty wordplay. Not enough people have read this hidden gem
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on 27 May 2016
Great story, liked it throughout, would love to hear more about Frankies next adventures.
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on 27 February 2010
FINALLY a book for teenagers that isn't about A.Vampires B. Some wierd country in Eastern Europe C. Romance or social issues or D. Spying. Although it does contain the latter two it contains some other more different subjects. What I like about Frankie is that she goes against the grain and stops and questions conventional behaviour. Until her 15th Frankie Landau-Banks had been the bunny rabbit. The baby of the family. The innocent pretty-face. And Frankie is out to prove that she is anything but that. At the beginning of her second year at Alabaster- A posh school somewere in North Massachusetts that generations of her family have attended- Frankie changed from a frizzy-haired stick to a young girl with a knockout figure. And when the gorgeous senior Matthew Livingston becomes her boyfriend it seems it can't get better. But when she finds that Matthew is lying to her, she is determined to find out about her boyfriend's all-male secret society. And when she does she outdoes herself. Striving for more, Frankie forces you to follow her in an amazing adventure about questioning the rules, changing the (or her) world and being someone. A conclusion? E. Lockhart is a genius.I am twelve year old girl and loved every second of this book.(And so did my mum)
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