Note: This review of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks will be as spoiler-free as possible.
I’m a sucker for a good YA novel – and one of my favourite YA writers of all times has got to be E. Lockhart , aka author of possibly the best YA novel ever written, We Were Liars. But in addition to We Were Liars, E. Lockhart has also written many another book, including the one I want to review today: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
Boarding school. Secret societies. Elaborate pranks. Feminism. The Disreputable History is everything I could ever want from a book.
What made this book for me was the main character – Frankie Landau-Banks.
Frankie is attractive. Her parents know it; boys know it; and, most importantly for me, Frankie knows it. Lockhart doesn’t try to pass her off as some kind of plain-yet-boys-are-falling-all-over-her heroine, like most YA authors do (*cough* Stephanie Meyer *cough*). She fully admits that Frankie is the kind of girl that boys notice; and whilst Frankie has her moments of insecurity and self-doubt – as all teenage girls do – she knows that she’s good looking.
This is important to me, because too often girls are taught to put themselves and their bodies down. To see a protagonist that knows she is good looking reminds teenage girls that it’s okay to think you’re pretty; it doesn’t make you a vapid, self-centered, bitch.
She’s also clever – and again, she knows it. And yet instead of being portrayed as a stereotypical not-like-other-girls YA character, Frankie is portrayed as a normal teenage girl. A girl who puts makeup on with her girlfriends, and is intimidated by popular seniors, and who distinctly cares about what boys think.
In short, Frankie Landau-Banks is the most believable YA heroine I have ever come across.
The other thing that makes this book awesome is that it’s Feminist As Fuck. But in the sort of way that 14-year-old-me-who-didn’t-think-she-was-a-feminist would have loved.
The whole story centres around Frankie infiltrating a decades-old all boys secret society, which in itself is pretty damn feminist; and whilst Frankie never explicitly calls herself a feminist – although her older sister Zada does – she undoubtedly thinks like one.
Frankie is frustrated with the patriarchal nature of her prestigious boarding school. Frustrated with the way her boyfriend and his friends underestimates her. Frustrated with the fact that she’s to be excluded from a secret society, just because she’s female – even though she is undoubtedly more intelligent and creative than most of the boys in it. She even rants and raves about restrictive gender roles and assumed biological differences.
And yet, all the while Frankie is still a teenage girl. She wants to impress her boyfriend and remain popular. She wants to be talked about and admired. She wants to get good grades and go to a good College and get a good career. She wants her family to respect her.
She is normal. And she is feminist. Two terms that for many writers – of both fiction, films, and theatre – seem to be mutually exclusive. Frankie is the character that teenage me desperately needed – and I can only hope that teenage girls across the world will read this book and realize you can be pretty, and smart, and popular, and flawed, and a feminist, all at once.
TL;DR: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is freaking awesome and you should definitely go read it. 10/10 would recommend.