Wednesday, November 05, 2008

National Book Award Finalist The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Between May and September Frankie 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 comes to plastic surgery, it never hurts to do these things before college," to being a curvaceous young woman with an offbeat 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.

Aware of her transformation from geeky ugly duckling to gorgeous swan, Frankie returns to her prestigious prep school for her sophomore year to find that her increased bra size has changed her life. In short order she becomes the girl friend of senior hotie Matthew Livingston, her entree into the top echelon of student social life at Alabaster Academy, invited to dine with the inner circle of senior guys in the caf and joining Matthew for secret midnight beer parties on the golf course. Although definitely attracted to Matthew, her secret freshman crush, and enjoying the perks of her role as Matthew's arm candy, Frankie very soon becomes aware of the male hegemony, represented by Matthew's best friend, aptly nicknamed Alpha (for Alpha Dog), whose whims seems to call the shots for her boyfriend and his coterie of friends.

When Matthew repeatedly breaks dates to "do something with Alpha and the guys," Frankie realizes that she and the other girls at Alabaster are still second-class citizens in the pecking order. Frankie, as a two-generation Alabaster legacy, knows a bit about its "old boy" network from her dad, known as "Senior," who has hinted at the existence of a secret society, open only to guys, named the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, famed primarily for their half century of epic pranks which challenge the stuffy administration. Tailing Matthew to a secret meeting of the other "dogs" held on the catwalks above the old theatre stage, Frankie soon gets the picture: no matter how smart, witty, and sexy she may be, she will never be allowed inside this inner circle--unless she takes matters into her own hands.

So Frankie sets out to outdo the dogs. An opportunity for a takeover arises just before Halloween, when the guys have planned a fairly lame prank involving spelling out the society's name in plastic forks on the quad. Alpha is called away on a family matter, and as, Frankie sends out e-mail commands for the most extensive and outrageous Basset Hound prank since the group's founding. Titled "In the Ladies We Trust," Frankie's brainchild prank, done in the name of Alpha Dog, has the boys attire each of Alabaster's past luminaries' portraits in an array of flowered, bright-colored, or impressively padded bras. The historic nymph statue and the fabled "Guppy," a huge bronze fish of unknown specie, often involved in Basset Hound pranks, also are gussied up in appropriate brassieres; the largest tree on campus sports a double-D from Victoria's Secret; and as a crowning touch, the dome of the historic library is disguised as a truly heroic breast:

The Hazleton Library dome, which stood so proudly at the center of the campus, had been outlined in a large, pale brown parachute. In the center of the parachute, the dome's nub had been painted a rosy pink, and in case anyone missed the idea, from the front of the library hung a large, painted sign reading "IN THE LADIES WE TRUST."

Frankie's expectation is that the guys will trace the plan back to her and admit that she should be admitted to the Basset Hounds on merit. But when he returns to school, Alpha smoothly accepts credit for the whole prank, deftly maintaining his status as top dog. Ignoring the ironic clue she concealed in the prank's title, Matthew and the guys continue to regard her primarily for her generous bra-size, and Frankie is furious.

Matthew had called her harmless. Harmless. And being with him made Frankie feel squashed into a box--a box where she was expected to be sweet and sensitive (but not oversensitively); a box for young and pretty girls who were not as bright or powerful as their boyfriends. A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with.

Frankie wanted to be a force.

E. Lockhart's Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The tracks the story of a smart young woman who tries to join the guys by playing and beating them at their own game, only to find their ranks closing against her forever. Now Frankie has to decide if this is a game she even wants to play.

An intelligent, stylish, supremely witty, and telling tale of the ongoing battle of the sexes, this novel is one of five nominees for the 2008 National Book Award for Literature for Young People to be awarded November 19.



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