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

We're kicking off 2010 at readergirlz with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, a book I highly and frequently recommend. (Read my full-length review of the novel.) This witty story begins with a letter written by Frances (Frankie) Rose Landau-Banks to the headmaster of her prep school. In this letter, Frankie claims to be "the sole mastermind" behind the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. But what exactly is the Order, and what did she do? Keep reading to find out.

Check out the first line of the first narrative chapter of the book:

Though not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock.

Joining us for today's roundtable discussion are eight enthusiastic readers. We have readergirlz divas Lorie Ann Grover and Melissa Walker; the current readergirlz author-in-residence, Elizabeth Scott; Shelf Elf, HipWriterMama, Jackie, and me, Little Willow, four members of postergirlz, the teen lit advisory council for readergirlz; and James, also known as Book Chic, a fellow blogger. I will be serving as moderator. Let's go!

Little Willow: The summer between her freshman and sophomore years, Frankie Landau-Banks changes physically, naturally, just part of growing up:

Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places. Went from being a scrawny, awkward child with hands too big for her arms, a frizz of unruly brown fluff on her head and a jaw so sharp it made Grandma Evelyn cluck about how "when it came to plastic surgery, it never hurt to do these things before college" – to being a curvaceous young woman with an off-beat look that boys found distinctly appealing. She grew into her angular face, filled out her figure, and transformed from a homely child into a loaded potato – all while sitting quietly in a suburban hammock, reading the short stories of Dorothy Parker and drinking lemonade. The only thing Frankie herself had done to facilitate the change was to invest in some leave-in conditioner to tame the frizz. She wasn't the kind of girl to attempt a makeover.

Little Willow: The Disreputable History... follows a young girl's journey through her formative years with honesty, humor, and a lot of heart. I really love this book. I think it's a wonderful coming-of-age tale. I thought the story was creative, the characters and events were memorable, and the writing was both intelligent and humorous. Throughout the book, Frankie becomes more mature as her sensibilities change and as she becomes more aware of the people and places around her. I thought her character arc was very realistic and believable. What did you think?

Lorie Ann: I cheered for Frankie from start to finish, how she trusted her own ideas, abilities, and gathered the courage to lead.

Shelf Elf: I agree, Lorie Ann. I was rooting for Frankie, "Do it! Do it! You can pull it off!" It was fun getting to see her work her way through problems creatively.

Lorie Ann: I loved Frankie's character arc. It is an honest portrayal of a teen girl discovering her body has changed, people are reacting differently to her, and she has to think through how she's going to walk on her new legs. The pacing was spot on.

HipWriterMama: I loved how Frankie dissected the old boys' network to find her own source of power. She wanted to be noticed for her brains rather than her looks.

Little Willow: Let's hear it for smarts! Did any of you go through any major or minor transformations in high school, obvious or otherwise?

Shelf Elf: I wish I could say yes, because I think that going through big changes in high school is a real rite of passage. But truthfully, I was more or less the same kind of girl the whole way through: academically focused, serious, goal-oriented, perceived to be "nerdy." My "transformations" didn't happen until university when I eventually took a dramatic turn away from an academic path towards work as a pastry chef.

HipWriterMama: My big transformation was getting a better sense of myself and knowing I didn't have to follow everyone else to be liked. It probably helped that I had strict parents so I couldn't always do things other people did. But, I've also been blessed with good friends who didn't pressure me to do things.

Book Chic: I actually did go through a transformation during high school. Coming in, I was very shy and rarely spoke up, but through my four years of making friends, being in various extracurriculars and all that, I became more outgoing. I'm still fairly shy, but I came out of my shell more, developed, used my humor, and became the lovable person I am today.

Melissa: I always wanted a big summer transformation where I'd come back and wow everyone with my new, gorgeous self. It didn't happen as dramatically as I imagined, but slowly and surely, I did grow into being comfortable with who I was, and that's what Frankie does in this book -- and it's interesting that her physical transformation precedes her emotional one.

Little Willow: I was really impressed with how E. Lockhart told Frankie's story. Even though she used third-person present-tense, she really gets readers into Frankie's mind. What did you think of the narration and the writing?

Lorie Ann: I enjoyed the narrator and thought I'd like to know that person more. I suppose that is what we'll be doing in January! And I didn't feel removed from Frankie. The narrator chose to include the full thought process to keep us sympathetic and engaged. I loved the rapid-fire thoughts in a 2-3 second period, ending in Frankie's final response.

Elizabeth Scott: I thought the story was really well done!

Book Chic: The story was really well done and was just very clever in how it was executed. It made for such a wonderful, engaging, and original read! I remember the first time I read it being very thrown off while reading it because of the third person when like 99.9% of YA is first person and it was just so jarring. Now, I feel like there's more third person narrators that I'm reading, and so, in re-reading [the book] for this discussion, I slipped into the story much easier. But I feel like the third person was the best way to tell the story.

Melissa: I loved the way it was written, and sometimes I felt like I was the narrator, which made me feel very close to the story. So skilled, that E. Lockhart!

Little Willow: Indeed. As with The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks offers both a private boarding school and a secret society, two things we seem to love discussing in these roundtables. Would you enroll in Alabaster Preparatory Academy? Why or why not?

Lorie Ann: I caught myself transferring the story to a college setting as that's more familiar to me. I think I'd miss my family too much to enroll in a prep school.

Book Chic: Lorie Ann, I did the exact same thing! (laughing out loud) Whenever I'd picture anything in the book, I'd place it at my college. It's definitely more familiar to me and just makes more sense to me, what with the absence of parents and all that. I don't know if I would necessarily enroll, but probably not. I'd miss my family and that's just way too early to be sent off on your own, at least for me. I had problems leaving at 18 to go to college! It's a big, scary world out there.

Melissa: I totally pictured college the whole time too! And I pictured Vassar, where both E. and I went to school. I did keep reminding myself it was a high school, though, and it worked either way.

Shelf Elf: Growing up, part of me was desperate to go to boarding school. I think I read way too many British children's books set in boarding schools when I was a kid. I had a good friend who went to a very exclusive school in the U.S. and I visited her there, which only fueled the fire. I actually think that the idea of boarding school was much more powerful to me than the actual experience would have been. I know I would have been intensely homesick. Would have loved the ivy-covered walls and the library though!

HipWriterMama: I wouldn't have been ready when I was in high school. College was my version of prep school.

Little Willow: Would you have joined The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds?

Lorie Ann: NO WAY. I can't stand secret societies, and clubs for men, especially. I don't like the exclusivity, nor the usual initiation rites that push boundaries. I'm just not a sorority girl. Now, an open community like readergirlz, that welcomes girlz and really smart guyz, and contributes to the community, count me in!

Shelf Elf: When I was at university, there was a "secret" society (read: everyone in the college knew about it, including the professors). They used to tromp around at night time in robes, carrying candles and doing weird prank-ish traditions. I wasn't impressed. I wouldn't join The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, because like Lorie Ann, anything that excludes others, or sets some above the rest just leaves me feeling yucky.

HipWriterMama: This is interesting. If I had friends in a secret society or supported the idea of what it was about, I'd be interested in learning more about the organization. I loved the sorority/fraternity scene at college, even though after joining a sorority, I discovered it wasn't right for me. It was a huge part of my social experience. The one nice thing I found was it ultimately didn't matter whether one was in the Greek system or not. The world is definitely a better place when we can be open and include everyone. Yay for readergirlz! But we also need to keep in mind that exclusive groups don't always mean something bad or harmful to others.

Melissa: I agree, HipWriterMama. Though my school didn't have sororities or fraternities, there certainly were exclusive groups. Still, exclusivity doesn't necessarily mean evil. I'm reading Kay Cassidy's The Cinderella Society now, and that one is a very positive secret society.

Little Willow: What did you think of the pranks that the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds pulled? Did you think they are harmless or harmful?

Lorie Ann: The pranks cost money in the school's having to remove all the displays. Other than that, Frankie made her point harmlessly.

Shelf Elf: I agree with Lorie Ann. The pranks were fairly harmless, and definitely hilarious.

Little Willow: What makes some pranks acceptable and others unacceptable?

Shelf Elf: I suppose that technically all pranks are unacceptable, but those that destroy property seem particularly intolerable.

HipWriterMama: Pranks are acceptable when they can make people laugh. When it gets to the point when someone is uncomfortable or has to compromise values, it starts to go over the line. Anything beyond that is no longer a prank.

Melissa: I think pranks that make people think can be a valuable way to help people open their eyes and learn about issues (Frankie's vegetable hound comes to mind...)

Little Willow: Frankie's full name is Frances Rose Landau-Banks. Do you feel as though it suits her?

Lorie Ann: Perfectly.

Melissa: Yes. It's excellent. I want to know how E. came up with that name!

Little Willow: We'll have to ask at the chat. (E. Lockhart will be chatting live at the readergirlz blog on Wednesday, January 20th at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST. Join us then!)

Shelf Elf: I think Frankie is wise beyond her years, and she's got dignity. Her full name is quite old-fashioned and that seems just right to me.

Little Willow: I agree on all counts. Now, Frankie was named after her father, Frank, who also attended Alabaster. Were any of you named after family members? Did you attend your parents' alma mater?

Lorie Ann: Nope. My name is unique in my family line, and I headed out to a college of my choice.

Shelf Elf: I was named after a county in Ireland (Kerry), but my middle named is a family name. I went to a university where none of my family had been before.

HipWriterMama: I was the first to attend my university. My sister and brother followed.

Melissa: My name is unique, but my older brother is John A. Walker, III, so there's certainly a line of first-sons in my family. I didn't go to my parents' alma mater, but I did go to a school that my parents talked about a lot when I was growing up. That definitely had an influence.

Little Willow: When she was a freshman, Frankie was known more for being the younger sister of Zara, who was a senior, than for being her own person. Did any of you ever have a teacher whose opinion of you was based - at least initially - on his or her opinion of your sibling(s)?

Lorie Ann: As the oldest, I left the trail blazed for my brothers.

Shelf Elf: My sister and I were very different people as teenagers, so I suppose that this might have set each of us up to me compared to the other. This happened sometimes. She was older, but I think that most teachers who taught us treated us as unique individuals.

HipWriterMama: Too funny, Lorie Ann. I'm the oldest, too! I'd love to know whether my sister or brother had to deal with any opinions about me. As a parent, it's interesting to watch this unfold with my children and their teachers.

Little Willow: Did you like how Frankie created and used "impeas," her imagined neglected positives, like making "ept" meant the opposite of "inept?"

Shelf Elf: The "impeas" cracked me up. I found myself trying to invent some as I read the book.

Lorie Ann: I thought these were fun and quite brilliant. What I really loved was how Frankie used them without hesitation.

Melissa: Yes, these were little gems that sparkled throughout the book. I've been thinking of my own since I finished it!

Little Willow: I liked Frankie's wordplay. What aspects of Frankie's personality did you relate to or admire?

Lorie Ann: I related to her desire to prove herself to someone without even realizing it. While righting wrongs, and tackling the good ol' boys' club, she also wanted Alpha's respect.

Shelf Elf: I related to the way she questioned things that didn't seem right, even if other people weren't terribly troubled by them. Sometimes this gets you into trouble or doesn't make people like you, but Frankie wasn't afraid.

Melissa: I related to the way she rationalized things, honestly. The guys weren't bad to her, they were friendly and even affectionate, so she wasn't really sure they were doing anything wrong by not including her in everything. I like the way she figured out that they were underestimating her, but I really related to her doubts too.

Little Willow: This book was populated with memorable supporting characters, including but not limited to: Frankie's parents, Frank and Ruth; her sister, Zada; her boyfriend, Matthew; Porter; and Trisha. Who were your favorite supporting characters?

Lorie Ann: Trisha, the loyal friend, even when Frankie closed herself off.

Elizabeth Scott: Lorie Ann, so agree with you!

Jackie: Frankie was very much influenced by the feminism rants Zada shared with her - it wasn't necessarily something she was conscious of, but I think that she internalized much of what her sister was saying and that proved to be a catalyst of Frankie's behavior. What did you think of the way feminism was incorporated into the plot?

Lorie Ann: It didn't read heavy-handed coming from Zada. Just natural.

HipWriterMama: I agree with Lorie Ann. I didn't even notice the feminism threads. It was so natural. I wonder if men would think the same thing if they read this.

Melissa: I also agree. And they have been naturally incorporated into my thinking more and more after I read the book. I've even had some discussions with my husband about this -- he and his friends can get a little "Boys Clubby."

Little Willow: I have always thought that it was wrong to tell someone that she or he couldn't do something simply because she was a woman or he was a man. Scenarios range from silly assumptions to ridiculous rules, from rude dismissals to downright unjust events. Gender bias frustrates me. As far as I'm concerned, anyone can do anything that she or he puts her or his mind to, with the obvious exceptions being things based in biology, laws of gravity, and that sort of thing. (For example, I can't magically grow wings just by wishing for them, nor can I jump 100 feet straight up in the air - not without assistance from some sort of springboard or special device!) Other things - money, geography, connections, etcetera - can make something more or less possible, of course, but for the sake of keeping this roundtable on topic, I'm simply talking about when one makes assumptions about someone's abilities and potential based solely on gender. However, whenever someone has said to me, "You can't do that because you're a girl," it only made me more determined to prove to that person that I could, I would, and I did. Whenever I hear someone telling another person - especially it's an adult speaking to a child - something with gender bias, like he can't be a dancer because he's a boy or she can't be an architect because she's a girl, I speak up.

HipWriterMama: Love this, LW! I'm with you. I hate when people are pigeon-holed for any reason. I admire people who defy social expectations and find what they love to do.

Little Willow: Would you wear the Superman T-shirt?

Melissa: I liked the Superman T-shirt. A girl wearing a boy's T-shirt is an old-fashioned notion, I know. The opposite rarely happens. But I still love to put on a guy's shirt for some reason. It makes me feel warm. Is that anti-feminist?

Little Willow: I don't think it is, Melissa. In addition to the T-shirt, a number of other items and memorable tokens factored into the plot - especially when it came to the pranks. Do you remember the guppy, and the doggies in the window? What were your favorite important or random items in the book?

Lorie Ann: Maybe Matthew's glasses?

Shelf Elf: Definitely the doggies in the window.

Little Willow: This book is all about daring: daring to be yourself, daring to stand up for yourself, daring to step outside of your comfort zone, daring to change the world. Are you daring? What do you dare to do? I dare to dream.

Elizabeth Scott: I think the thing that impressed me most how creative the story is -- it's really quite a feminist story, I think, and I love that! As for being daring -- that's definitely not me! But I do like to dream. *big smile*

Shelf Elf: I wouldn't say I'm daring by nature. I'm more of a think-it-through and play-it-safe girl. But sometimes I get out there and try something daring. I dare to be silly. I dare to eat as much chocolate as I want, whenever I want. I dare to have big library fines.

Melissa: As readers, I think we all dare to step into others' shoes on a regular basis. How cool for our worldviews!

Little Willow: Sometimes those shoes are comfortable; other times, they are disorienting. I was pretty comfy in Frankie's shoes. Did you like how the book opened with Frankie's written confession? What did that make you think about her then, and how did that change once you got to know her?

Lorie Ann: It made me ready myself to see how she came to this. On the second reading, I enjoyed picking up the pieces that rolled into the plot.

Shelf Elf: It was the perfect opening, I thought. It revealed so much of her character - her sharp wit, her cleverness and her self-awareness. Like Lorie Ann, it really made me want to see how everything unraveled.

Little Willow: Without spoiling the book for those who have yet to read it - as we hope this discussion will inspire them to pick up the book! - what did you think of the ending? Was it satisfactory? Did it end how you thought it would, or did it surprise you, for better or for otherwise?

Elizabeth Scott: It was a hard ending, but it was the right one, if that makes sense. And it was so well done!

Lorie Ann: It grieved me, for what she had to sacrifice, what she gave up to be herself. And then, it made me proud. Thanks, E.!

Learn more about the book and the author:
Read the January 2010 issue of readergirlz.
Read my full-length review of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
Discuss the book all month long with other readers at the readergirlz blog.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing E. Lockhart three times.
We spoke about musicals, movies, books, and songs at length in 2007.
I had the pleasure of speaking with E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle in person in mid-2008.
Want to find out what inspired The Disreputable History? Check out our December 2009 interview.
Tags: book group, books, gender bias, postergirlz, readergirlz, reviews, roundtables

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  • Red Hands by Christopher Golden

    A new Christopher Golden book is here, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! Here's the jacket flap summary for Red Hands: In bestselling author…

  • Annual Book Fair for Ballou High School

    It's that time again! Colleen Mondor has once again organized a book fair for the students of Ballou Senior High School. This time, the books are…

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