Frankie Landau-Banks, fifteen, is returning to her exclusive boarding school as a sophomore. Last year she was a geeky freshman, all but invisible except for the fact that her popular sister helped to smooth her way. Now her sister is off at college, and Frankie is on her own. Over the summer, though, she suddenly attained curves and height, and Matthew, the incredibly hot senior she'd been mooning over her entire freshman year, suddenly is very interested in her.
But Frankie is not content to be the girlfriend of a popular guy, hanging out on the sidelines while the boys have all the fun. Frankie is smart and creative and finds immediate practical applications for the knowledge and understanding gleaned from her high-quality education. As much as she loves Matthew and enjoys being with his friends, who are goofy and smart and fun be with, she feels that they don't take her seriously. Her own family (except her sister) doesn't take her seriously, a frustrating fact that is reflected in their nickname for her: Bunny Rabbit.
Frankie's father has often mentioned being part of a secret society when he attended her boarding school (before it became coed), something to do with basset hounds. When he gets together with his old boarding school friends (all powerful, wealthy men, firmly entrenched in their good-old-boy network), they reminisce most annoyingly, refusing to let Frankie in on any of their secrets (which they would certainly do if she were a boy). When Frankie discovers that Matthew and his friends are part of the very same secret society, and he lies to her about it, excluding her from that part of his life - never even considering for one millisecond to invite her (or any of the girls) to join them, Frankie feels angry and shut out. And she decides to do something about it. Meet Frankie Landau-Banks, criminal mastermind.
She finds it both exhilarating and annoying that, when she figures out an ingenious way to take control of the secret society anonymously, no one begins to suspect her. She is devious and intelligent, and the pranks that she masterminds are not just silly and outrageous - she has very specific points to make. Even if none of the other Basset Hounds realizes that.
At one point one of the boys is briefly suspicious of Frankie - not, of course, of actually being involved, but of knowing something about the society. She overhears him talking about her with Matthew, who replies, "She doesn't even know anything about anything. I promise you, she's harmless." Later, Frankie thinks this over:
Matthew had called her harmless. Harmless. And being with him made Frankie feel squished into a box - a box where she was expected to be sweet and sensitive (but not oversensitive); a box for young and pretty girls who were not as bright or powerful as their boyfriends. A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with.
Frankie wanted to be a force.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Frankie is an exceptional character - I love her unabashed intelligence and willingness to examine her own faults and weaknesses. I love that she doesn't take things at face value - her reflections about a seemingly thoughtless comment or casual interaction with someone give her amazing insight into other people and how they see the world. I love that as much as she adores Matthew, and is amazed that he has chosen her out of all the other girls in school to be his girlfriend, she doesn't allow herself to be blinded by that. She examines what he says, how he treats her, and sees it for what it is. I love that she likes being smart and hates being underestimated. I love that she is angry by closed doors, angry enough to do something about them. Frankie is a force, and it was a pleasure to read about her exploits.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, 2008)
Also reviewed at:
Abby (the) Librarian
Page Numbered (includes author interview)
The Reading Zone