The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is quite a mouthful of a title, but don’t let that scare you off. This disreputable history by E. Lockhart (not any relation to the professor from the Harry Potter series…as far as I know…) is one of the most accurate depictions of the frustrations that are felt when you’re a girl trying to make it in a “boy’s club” world. The main character, Frankie, responds to these frustrations by pulling off some very impressive pranks/takeovers to prove that she is just as smart and capable as the boys. I wish middle school and/or high school me could have read this, both for the prank ideas and to know that others were feeling just as frustrated as I was. As it is, just keep an eye out for pranks because I’m feeling inspired.
I had many moments in reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks in which I had to stop and say, “YES, that’s exactly how I feel in those situations!” This was simultaneously comforting and disquieting because this mostly happened when Frankie was in a situation where she was being written off, ignored, or ridiculed for being a girl that speaks her mind. I’m lucky in that I grew up with a mom that spoke her mind and a family that listened both to her and me. Unfortunately this almost never extended outside my family and close friends. I learned a lesson that most girls learn, though some, perhaps sooner than I did, which is the boys in class can get away with being outspoken, rambunctious, and opinionated but girls need to be quiet and listen. This is not a generalization.
Ideally things have changed since I’ve been in school, but I don’t feel too hopeful for that. I got very sick of teachers telling me to sit like a lady when what they meant was make myself small and out of the way. I was interrupted when I was trying to make a point and constantly conditioned to never interrupt. Complaining about these daily injustices made me strange and, to some of the more condescending authoritative figures and boys, funny and cute. Funny and cute and even strange are not necessarily insults, but when they’re used synonymously to “overreacting” and “not worth listening to” and “beware don’t engage” they’re infuriating and belittling.
Lockhart confronts these issues head on without ever being preachy. In Frankie’s life they are presented as fact and the reader gets to follow along her thought process in how to deal with them. This actually works because Frankie is just like any other teenager. She’s just trying to navigate the high school social strata while staying true to herself. Which, if you’ve ever been to high school, you know is much more difficult than it sounds.
I didn’t always agree with the decisions Frankie made in the book, but I have the advantage of retrospect. I would encourage everybody, especially high school girls, to read this partly for the great prank ideas, but also to learn how to really question the rules and regulations in place around them. Are we following rules and traditions because they serve a purpose that, in turn, serves us? Or are we following rules and traditions because that’s what has always been done and it’s more comfortable to go along than speak out? These questions are important to ask and it can be hard to find the answer but The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks might make it just a little bit easier.