The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

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I was looking for a light “romance” to read for my library summer reading program, and I decided to go completely out of my comfort zone by reading a YA novel with a romance in it.

So because it was such a foreign genre, I suppose I was setting myself up to be disappointed by reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. It just wasn’t my type of book, and it unfortunately reinforced in my mind the stereotypes I have of YA fiction. Lots of people like this book (in fact, I think I found 2 negative reviews out of about 50), but as a newcomer to the YA genre, I am not one of them.

All that said, I suppose The Disreputable History has a good underlying message for teens. Frankie returns to her preppy boarding school for her sophomore year having suddenly developed an attractive figure. Even the cutest boy in school, Matthew Livingston, notices her, and Frankie is flattered to be included in his exclusive circle. And yet, Frankie increasingly feels she is not quite accepted as the individual (and young woman) that she is, and so she takes matters in to her own hands, having lots of fun in the process. *SPOILER* In the end, Frankie realizes she doesn’t need or even want to be a part of the cliquey circle of snobs: she likes herself the way she is and not the way the boys tell her to be. (cue sappy music)

If that sounds a bit formulaic, I have to agree that the underlying plot was so. The details made it interesting in many parts, but I didn’t find myself engaged in the story at all until more than 100 pages of background were covered and Frankie was doing something interesting. The story was told in an “exposé” tone that gave it an unnecessary dryness. Besides, Frankie was constantly making up words. This may have been cute but there was enough about the book that I disliked that I found these made-up words to be rather annoying. There were also some boring parts, such as excerpts from Frankie’s school papers.

Beyond all that, the main thing that bothered me about The Disreputable History was the stereotypes. Everyone in this book seemed to fit into a stereotype. Matthew’s crowd included the “popular” teens, completely spacey, rude, and judgmental. Trish (Frankie’s roommate) was the confident girl that already had self-esteem, hinting all along how it would end up. The members of the Geek Conglomerate were geeks. And Frankie was the girl who had to choose where she fit in, complete with the drama of suddenly being popular after previously being one of the geeks.

The stereotypical crowds and the judgments associated with them was what I hated when I was in high school. In retrospect, I don’t think anyone in high school was a stereotype, and I dislike the thought of a novel for teenagers encouraging people to judge by “crowds” like this. Obviously, in the end, the novel is emphasizing the opposite, but the majority of the novel was quite irritating to me. Why would Frankie want to hang out with Matthew Livingston in the first place? I seriously don’t get it. He had no positive points in his personality. (And no, his being cute is not a personality point.)

I didn’t hate this book; I just didn’t like it. I read a comment a few weeks ago somewhere that said, in essence, “I hate it when someone trashes a book after they say they don’t usually read that type of book.” I don’t believe The Disreputable History deserves to be trashed, and I’ve tried hard not to do so. There are good points to it, and there are also many points I personally did not like. I believe that you may like it far more than I did. Many people do, citing Frankie as a strong character, Frankie as an ideal feminist, Frankie as a perfect role model for a daughter.

In the end, I fully admit that I missed the point of this book. I personally can’t imagine a teen relating to Frankie’s rich boarding school experiences, let alone suffering through the boring chapters of the novel. I’m not the target audience, though, and I am honestly not close enough to any teens to know what is realistic or not.

If you liked this book (and it seems the majority does love it), I’d love to know what grabbed you in to it. What aspect made The Disreputable History great for you? How do you relate to Frankie’s dilemma?

What YA novels go beyond stereotype? I felt that Uglies (which I read and reviewed last week) didn’t have stereotypical main characters, so that had given me hope for this one as well as the rest of the genre. Alas, this non-futuristic high school novel was still full of stereotypical cliques and longing to be “popular,” the stereotypes I have always associated in my mind with YA novels.

I’m the minority on not loving this book, so go read these other (mostly glowing) reviews:

I copied a list from a different blog (Fyrefly’s). There are tons of reviews out there! If you have reviewed The Disreputable History and I missed yours, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on July 30, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I thought I’d seen this book around a lot – that list of other reviews is impressive.

    Despite having read lots of glowing reviews for this book I haven’t been tempted to read it and your review confirms what I think I’d feel. There are a lot of YA books out there which are great for teens, but we need a bit more in our books.

    Thanks for the honest review – I won’t be reading this one.

  • I read this a while back because it was a contender in the Tournament of Books. I didn’t dislike it as much as you, I don’t think, but I didn’t like it as much as most other people did.

    I think the thing that really stuck in my craw was the approach to feminism in the book. I can’t say I’m surprised that many people think Frankie was a kick-ass heroine, but I was really disappointed in the tack the author takes in presenting “feminist” (or my preference, “empowered”) principles to a younger audience. Ironically so much of Frankie’s behavior is male-centered, even if she does want to make it into their higher echelon. It’s still all about the boys for her. I never felt that in the end she got over that so much as being part of their world just wasn’t an option for her.

    I did like the little misadventures she and the Bassets got into, and I did think the author captured some elements of the highschool experience that are certainly true. But I did think there were better things for adults to be reading, and the book didn’t make me feel like I was really missing out on great stuff by not being a regular YA reader.

    Anyway, so as not to monopolize your comments, here’s a link to the review I wrote:

    P.S. I thought the made-up words were annoying too!

  • I recommend Beth Kephart to people who are iffy about YA because her books are so literary and beautifully written. You might try Undercover or Nothing But Ghosts.

    I also recently really enjoyed The Body of Christopher Creed.

  • Aww, I’m sorry you didn’t like this book, especially if I was the review that convinced you to try it.

    I definitely see some of your criticisms about some of the background characters being stereotypical, but I felt like Frankie and some of the other central characters were interesting enough to mitigate that. When I think back to my high school experience, I remember lumping people like the “band kids” and the “popular kids” into groups, even though I knew that there were a lot of individuals among them. So some lumping of people in YA books doesn’t bother me, I guess because it seems realistic given what I used to do as a teen.

    I actually liked the expose sort of style — I felt like the narrator was another character that was able to look more objectively at what was going and tried to encourage the reader to do that too. I thought the asides and, almost, sociological tone were very funny.

    In terms of Frankie’s dilemma, I related to her sense of being underestimated and needing to prove herself. I’ve been in a situation where I wanted to fit into a group, but the group didn’t give me the respect I thought I deserved. I took a different tactic than Frankie to get over this, but I was also older that she is and definitely not as devious 🙂 I think that particular theme is what drew me to the book and made it enjoyable.

  • Yeah, I said in my comment the other day I didn’t think this book sounded interesting. Hearing that it plays on stereotypes makes me even less interesting. That reminds me of old Lois Duncan books, though of course those were mysteries and not romances.

    I don’t think stereotypes are the norm with YA now. At least, most of the ones I’ve read don’t have them. I’d recommend Deb Caletti’s work. Her characters are so round and wonderful. Westerfeld’s other works are similarly non-stereotyped. Maureen Johnson’s similarly non-stereotyped in the books I’ve read. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another good one. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson takes stereotypes and looks under them, so that characters who feel stereotyped at the beginning become multi-dimensional as you go along.

  • I had a lot of misconceptions about YA not too long ago so though this wasn’t quite up your alley, don’t give up on the genre! Lately a lot of authors are just being placed in the YA category since they can’t fit anywhere else. If you feel like trying a fantasy book try The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. I’d be VERY surprised if you dislike that one. 🙂

    Sorry, I haven’t read this so I can’t agree or disagree with you but I have heard a lot of good things about it nonethless. Not sure if it’s something I’d really like or not though.

  • Jackie, I was lazy, so I copied the list from a different person’s blog. I just felt bad because I didn’t like it but so many people did, so I thought I’d just include all their reviews!

    It seems lots of adults find something they relate to in YA novels, I guess just not me. And maybe not you either! And this was just one. I’ll have to give more of them a chance before I write-off the entire genre!

    Steph, I completely see what you’re saying about the “feminism” aspect. I too wondered why being a part of the boys club was a big deal. *Off to read your review.*

    Amy, thanks for the recommendations. I’ll do some research and give another YA novel a try!

  • Kim, hey it’s okay — I’m glad you wrote such a glowing review so I could give it a try. I am glad I gave it a read, even though it wasn’t my favorite. And thanks for sharing what resonated with you. It’s interesting how different aspects are what stand out to each person!

    Kathy, this didn’t have too much romance (unless you count a 15 year old fawning over a boy and saying “I’m in love” romance) or angst. Amy just mentioned Nothing but Ghosts so I need to give that one a try!

    Amanda, Like Kim said in her comment, the stereotypes didn’t really bother her — it just kind of reminder her of being a teenager. So I wonder… Thanks for all your recommendations. I’m going to give YA another try next month (although I may have to go for Pretties instead of something else….I’m still thinking about it a week later, despite the valley girl conversations I know are in store!)

    Ladytink, I just read a negative review of Looking Glass Wars, someone saying it was just weird. But I liked the idea of the Alice stories retold….so who knows? My husband thinks the original Alice is a bit freaky, but I like it. Maybe Alice is just an acquired taste? I’ll have to check it out.

  • I haven’t been able to go into YA genre. The few reviews that I read didn’t catch my interests, even the glowing ones (while the one like this confirms my choice). The description generally already puts me off, what with the stereotypes and the main character’s need to fit in or be popular. It just seems like too much of the main topic for a lot of YAs, which I have no interest in. I just don’t.

  • But just to make sure that I didn’t sound all close-minded, I’m still looking for the right YAs to read so I’m often reading people’s reviews to see what the books are about. For example I’m interested in Hunger Games from all the reviews that I read (but it doesn’t seem to be released here in Australia, so I haven’t read it :P)

  • Yeah, come to think of it, The Disreputable History pretty much sucks as a light YA romance. No wonder you didn’t like it! 🙂

    My take on it: Frankie didn’t want to hang out with Matthew. She wanted to hang out with the idea of Matthew, and he wanted to hang out with his idea of Frankie–only neither of those things were at all related to the actual people behind the images.

    And, since you asked: the main thing that made it stand out for me is the way Lockhart uses Frankie’s school as a microcosm, to represent the issues faced by women trying to be accepted in a “good old boy”-based business world. Frankie wants to have the school experience her dad had, and it’s not available to her, but nobody is talking about the fact that it’s not available to her so there’s no avenue for her to address what’s missing. Many women are up against these invisible barriers every single day.

  • mee, well, the stereotype issues are what I always thought YA was, BUT so many people have been loving YA and claiming it’s a bit different that I thought I’d give it a chance. I think I just chose the wrong one for my entry into the genre. I liked Uglies last week. A little bit of angst but more interesting than this one was.

    Ali, I think that’s a good point: liking the idea and not the actually person. I just didn’t like Matthew at all. Thanks for sharing what you liked about it!

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