Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A force to be reckoned with

From Muse Book Reviews
While I was still processing the awesomeness that is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I was thinking about the literary heroines that inspired me as a kid and into my teenage years. And what if Frankie had been one of them. I don't think I would have quite gone so far as Frankie did when she realized her gender barred doors to her, including the door to her boyfriend, but I like to think I would have had an awareness of the world that I didn't really get until three years of Women's Studies pounded it into my brain.

For those of you who don't know her, Frankie Landau-Banks is, at age 16, a criminal mastermind of the first degree. Because not only is she turning her very elite boarding school upside down with her pranks, she has convinced a secret all-male society on her campus to do all her dirty work for her. Her reasons for this are confusing at times. She justifies her actions as a way to make the men in her life respect her, to see her as something other than a quiet little bunny rabbit they allow to tag along on their adventures. Frankie, very clearly states, that she wants to be a force. Of what or for what, the world will just have to wait and find out as the story ends.

It is Frankie's growing awareness of herself and her role in her world that impressed me. As a teenager, we all struggle to figure out what exactly we want to stand for, to ourselves, to our family, to our friends. Frankie's entire story is the story of her trying to figure out what exactly she wants to stand for, what she wants to be known for once she's left the hallowed halls of her school. I think, that more than I did at age 16, Frankie does have an idea. She knows what she is capable of, and while it is equal parts awesome and equal parts worrisome, that is a lot more than most kids figure out before they leave high school.

Her growing feminist awareness comes from an odd place: the need to prove to her boyfriend and his friends that she is an equal. Yet, where else would a teenage girl learn feminism in a school where traditional roles and morals rule the day? Her sister pipes in from Berkeley every once in a while but Frankie doesn't seem to listen to her. Instead, Frankie is trying to figure out how to make her boyfriend actually see her, respect her, love her. It is convoluted in a sense but that leads her to realize that she has power, that she isn't invisible. The best and worst thing that ever happened to her was that the world found out that she was the mastermind of the "mal-doings." She lost the boys she wanted so much to impress but gained an understanding of herself that was priceless.

Now, I'm not saying a teenager will read this book and get all of that. I think a lot of this is the years of Women's Studies and English lit training coming into play. A teenager will see a girl determined to make her boyfriend see her for herself and the extreme lengths she will go to do so. That said, Frankie doesn't obsess about her weight, spend hours in front of a mirror or offer to sleep with her boyfriend so that he'll see her. Instead, she becomes one of the greatest prank masterminds her school has ever known. And convinced a bunch of snobby, conceited boys to do all her work for her. I don't know about you but I can't help feeling this is a step in the right direction. Girl power indeed.


Anonymous said...

I like that you pointed out the stereotypical methods with which girls try to get attention. It highlights just how different this book is and how refreshing Frankie is as a character. Unfortunately, her feminism is a little shallow but we'll get there eventually... And she is only 16 after all.

I usually dislike it when a homework assignment is incorporated into a novel because it's often clunky. But I think it worked well, don't you? It was a clever way of narrating what Frankie was going through without needing to state it outright.

Also, don't forget sticking it to her Good Ol' Boy father in addition to the prep school jerks!

Krystal said...

I did like the incorporation of the essay she is working on - because it is one of the catalysts to her actions and why she starts to question the boarding school world.

Yeah, I had a hard time articulating the feminist awareness - she has it but like you said, she's still 16, she's not quite there yet.