So, I just finished The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. It’s a young adult book that’s almost really really good. It is good, but it’s just on the verge of being much more. It’s about a girl who suddenly gets pretty between 9th and 10th grade at an exclusive prep school, causing her to attract the attention of a type of boy she had never previously attracted. She’s annoyed, though, that she attracts the attention, but that doesn’t really make her belong. She’s “the girlfriend.” She’s not invited to the excusive boys’ secret society, so she secretly insinuates herself in anyway, without their knowledge.
The good parts are that it really captures that feeling of being “the girlfriend.”
Most young women, when confronted with the peculiarly male nature of certain social events — usually those incorporating beer or other substances guaranteed to kill off a few brain cells, and often involving either the freezing-cold outdoors or the near-suffocating heat of a filthy dorm room, but which can also, in more intellectual circles, including the watching of boring Russian films — will react in one of three ways.
Some, like Trish, will wonder what the point is, figure that there probably is no point and never was one, and opt for typicaly feminine or domestic activities such as crumble-making, leaving whatever boyfriends they have to “hang with the guys.”
Others, like Star, will be bored most of the time, but will continue attending such events because they are the girlfriends or would-be girlfriends of said boys, and they don’t want to seem like killjoys or harpies. If the boys are there, playing games on the Xbox (indoors) or letting off cherry bombs to make a big noise for no reason (outdoors), the girls will chatter among themselves and generally make a quiet display of being interested in whatever the boys think is interesting.
The third group aggressively embraces the activities at hand. These girls dislike the marginalized position such events naturally put them in, and they are determined not to stay on those margins. They do what the boys do wholeheartedly, if sometimes a little falsely. They drink beer, play the video games, light off cherry bombs. They remain alert during obscure Russian films. They even buy the beer, win the video games, and show up with an M-80, just when the cherry bombs are beginning to get old. If required by their social circle, they read articles on Andrei Tarkovsky.
It’s almost great, but not quite. Frankie doesn’t want to be the Bunny Rabbit. Frankie doesn’t want to be the baby. Frankie doesn’t want to be the adorable girlfriend. But she also doesn’t want to play field hockey, because it’s only a girl sport. Frankie only wants Matthew to notice her, but she almost doesn’t want to notice herself. She is angry that the club that her father joined won’t take her, because she’s not a boy, but she seems resourceful enough to found her own club, a co-ed club. She seems like she might be bright enough to move beyond Matthew and his boring friends. But she doesn’t.
Th author keeps stressing that she’s just an ordinary girl. I guess I want her to be more than that, and the scene with Matthew, when she reveals that she’s the mastermind, doesn’t quite ring true. She should realize, I think, that Matthew is never going to “see” her, but that other people might.
It certainly does remind me, though, of a period in my life, going to excrutiatingly boring parties with the boy I was going out with because it was supposed to be fun, or in college, hanging out with the boys on my floor who were exactly as boring as described above, because I thought they ought to be more interesting than my high school girlfriends. But they were actually as boring, but in a different way. It is a wierd position, when you want to be part of exciting things, but the exciting things prove to be very boring. I guess I wish it had ended with the possibility of her hanging out with people who actually were interesting.
Anyway. I’m being critical, but I actually enjoyed it a lot.
I like Frankie’s friend Trish, who is the one who opts for crumble-making. (Frankly, I think crumble making is a worthy pursuit.) I like the author’s depiction of boys, and who they are willing to allow you into their world on sufferance, but are not willing to enter yours. My highschool boyfriend wanted to go to the boring beer parties at his friend Andy’s house. He did not want to come and hang out with me and my friends. I think a better resolution would not have been Frankie refusing to play field hockey because the more important part of th population does not play field hockey. There was another, slightly interesting, girl, and I wish the resolution would have been that F, and maybe that girl, and maybe Trish and the previous boyfriend would have formed their own prank society. I don’t like the idea that she’s conceding that the male half of the population is more important than the female. But perhaps what Frankie wants to do is to become the president of a bank, and I suppose there really are more male bank presidents than female.
Hmmm. I am possibly thinking about this more than it warrants. I’m also thinking about the boyfriends my kids have had — N’s boyfriend and she had overlapping circles of friends, and sometimes they hung out with one and sometimes the other, but she was pretty adamant about not spending all her time with him, or ditching her friends. M’s boyfriend comes over here a lot, and sometime they watch violent shoot-m-up movies, but they do also watch Mulan and Princess Mononoke.