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By Mandy Webster

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. E. Lockhart. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2008.

E. Lockhart’s novel, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the story of a voiceless Bunny Rabbit of a girl who quickly learns to speak for herself.

What really stands out for me in this book, from the very beginning, is the tone. In the earlier chapters especially, the novel takes on the tone of an official spy dossier read by the head of some top secret government agency. It’s this purposeful use of tone that really makes this novel the award winner it has become.

While I heard a very distinctive narrative voice from the very first pages of this novel, this strong narrative voice does not remain consistent throughout the entire work. At first, Frankie’s voice slips in only once or twice in each chapter, but becomes more prevalent as the story progresses. In the beginning of the book, Frankie is the voiceless Bunny Rabbit. This is why we do not hear her voice, but that of the narrator. However, Frankie’s own voice is heard more and more as her character gains the ability to speak for herself.

Lockhart uses a couple of interesting techniques, maybe you could even call them gimmicks, to show Frankie’s acute intelligence and the unique view she takes of the world around her. For example, the Panopticon chapter (52) and the use of this theory throughout the novel borders on genius.

We’ve probably all picked our noses at some point and then thought about who could have seen and how they might judge us. One of the most interesting aspects of writing, to me, is this study of human nature, putting into words what others are unable to describe, making brilliant observations about the mundane: especially those mundane aspects of “civilized” life to which no one wants to admit. No one wants to admit to being human. Is our humanity so embarrassing to us? I do find this amusing. The fact that Lockhart does this in such a high class setting makes it even more amusing. Is she trying to say that rich people are people too? Wow. That is deep.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is ultimately an exploration of the relationships between men and women, girls and boys. Lockhart reveals the differences between those who accept the rules and play along and then there are those who discard those rules which make no sense to them and play life by their own rules. Frankie plays by her own rules. She doesn’t care what place society has determined in hers. She will make her own place in the world.

Frankie feels that the boys’ party on the golf course was “a dumb event preceded by excellent invitations” (86.) She knows she could have done better:

What Frankie did that was unusual was to imagine herself in control. The drinks, the clothes, the invitations, the instructions, the food (there was none), the location, everything. She asked herself: If I was in charge, how could I have done it better? (86)

I love Frankie, how she wants to be in control. She knows she could do better than anyone else, no matter what it is. Whether it’s planning a party on the golf course or arranging elaborate pranks that not only amuse the student body but also make a political statement and enrage the administration, all while making it known that the Royal Order of the Basset Hounds not only exists but is also responsible for the pranks.

Disreputable History Awards

  • Finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
  • Printz Honor, American Library Association.
  • Cybils Award for best young adult novel.
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year list.
  • Richie’s Picks Best of 2008 List.
  • Tayshas List, 2009.
  • NY Times Notable Children’s Book list, 2008.
  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, 2008.
  • Library Journal’s list of Seattle Public Library’s Fiction Favorites of 2008.
  • Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best List.
  • Washington Post Best Kids Books of the Year.
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice.
  • Morning News Tournament of Books, 2009.
  • SLJ Tournament of Kids Books.
  • Rhode Island Teen Book Awards Finalist.
  • Teens Top Ten. Oregon Battle of the Books, 2010-2011.
  • IRA YA Choices list.
  • Connecticut Nutmeg Award finalist, 2011.
  • Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award finalist, 2011.
  • Georgia Peach nominee, 2011.

Amanda L. Webster