Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My reputable review of Frankie Landau-Banks

Once upon a time, I was very hot and sweaty. It was June of 2007 and I was carrying my weight in books around the Javits Center while wearing 4-inch heels. It was Book Expo America, held on one of the first really warm days of the year, and whoever thought to put a huge convention in a center too small to hold it, when said center is half made of glass, is crazy.

During this once upon a time, it so happened that my friends and I ran into some YA authors we admire. All of us were standing around talking and I noticed that the woman on my right was none other than the very talented E. Lockhart. And she was holding a book in one hand with her name on the cover.

"Oh," I said, "do you have a new book coming out? I can't wait to read it. I loved Dramarama."

"Here," she replied, handing me the book.

SERIOUSLY? I just about fell over dead from fangirling.

It was one of the shining moments of Book Expo. And the book she handed me was The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, one of the shining books of 2008.

The Plot: All her life, Frankie Landau-Banks has been labeled as someone to be protected, her family's Bunny Rabbit, someone who is in need of sage advice and wise words. She's sick of it. Frankie, ace debater and ultimate Frisbee enthusiast, wants people to see her for her greatest talent, which is manipulating people (not in a bad way). She has a keen eye for social structure and an analytical mind, and she uses these talents to infiltrate an all-boys secret society at her school, of which her boyfriend Matthew is a member. Assuming the identity of the society's leader, Alpha, she gets the boys to pull some amazing stunts. In four months Frankie goes from unknown to girlfriend of the popular guy to secret campus puppet master to simultaneously revered and reviled by her classmates.

Why you'll love it: Like Frankie, there is much to this book beneath the surface. At first glance, it's a book about a girl, tired of being pigeonholed as sweet and innocent, who masterminds one of the unsweetest, uninnocentest series of pranks her prestigious boarding school has ever seen. One way to see it would be that it's a book about breaking from the shell of expectations that everyone else has built around you. The reader knows from the beginning that Frankie is dissatisfied with the way people see her and she wants to make herself noticed for being something other than Zada Landau-Banks's little sister. The way I see it, it's a book about belonging. Matthew's way of belonging is to not rock the boat too much with his friends. Alpha's way of belonging is to draw everyone to him with his supreme confidence and irreverence. Frankie does what she does because she needs to belong and needs to be recognized as a leader in the groups to which she belongs. The book has a very Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feeling to it, in which an outside narrator with wisdom and omniscience tells the story of Frankie's social journey. The use of point of view can usually make or break a book for me, and just like I hold up Invisible and Inexcusable as examples of how to use first person, I will be holding this book up as an example of how to use third person. The peripheral characters are both fantastic and completely believable. Lockhart's use of both esoteric and witty-yet-confused teenage language gives the book a refined edge. This is a definite candidate for this year's Printz and I hope the committee doesn't overlook it.

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