What can you say about a book that is universally beloved by bloggers and that has, I am sure, been discussed in-depth by many of them? (This seems to be my perpetual difficulty when it comes to blogging lately).
Well.. I could add that I loved it too? Loved it! See, it even deserves to be called loved in italics, that’s how much I enjoyed it.
Frankie Landau-Banks is a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Alabaster, a preparatory boarding school that is mostly attended by children from privileged families. Frankie returns to school after a year of being practically invisible and a painful breakup with her boyfriend after he cheated on her. But this year quickly proves to be different: Frankie’s body has rapidly changed and her new looks mean that suddenly boys start to notice her. Matthew, a senior boy every girl including Frankie has a crush on, singles her out at the beginning of the year and they start dating. This means she becomes acquainted with the group of friends around Matthew: all senior, mostly boys from privileged families, who, as Frankie notes, have enough money and security to not have to care about much and are thus free to enjoy themselves in whatever way.
Frankie is enjoying herself, she enjoys spending time with her new friends and they make dating Matthew even more fun. However, she also notices the exclusionary tendencies of the group Matthew is a part of, and she quickly starts to be annoyed by them. It seems that, as a girl, Frankie is expected to be beautiful, adorable, and not too “think-y”. There are topics the guys can debate, but once Frankie starts to give her opinions there is an awkward silence. Then, when she finds out Matthew has been keeping a secret from her, she decides to take matters into her own hands: showing Matthew and the whole school what a girl, or any person really, is capable of, without them realising it at first.
It is quite impossible to do the layers of this book’s plot justice. I wanted to spoil everything just to make sure you understood that this book cannot be dismissed as whatever label you want to use to dismiss it. It is a great story, with great critiques, with the incorporation of grand ideas like Foucault’s commentary on the Panopticon, with a commentary on gender and class that could easily provide a wonderful introduction for any teenager, or adult for that matter..
Frankie is a wonderful heroine. She’s spunky and smart and lovely and she has all the agency in the world without being unrealistic because she also shows us her insecurities. I am nothing like Frankie in that I know I would never have dared do what she did, but that does not matter as she is so admirable and warm that it is quite difficult not to take her into your heart. Honestly, I wanted to stay with Frankie for days after finishing the book, hoping to be able to return to her world in one way or other.
Of course, Frankie is not perfect. She is learning, a work in progress, like everyone else. She judges people in certain ways that are not always great. She dismisses the advise about gender and power from friends and family at certain points in the narrative, though we have to consider that she’s not necessarily wrong in doing so (Ana has written wonderfully about this in her post). But she’s also portrayed as learning from her own experiences. What made me like her was that, even though I wanted to shake her a little with her blind admiration for Matthew at first (okay, not exactly blind, she’s never unobservant really, just not fully seeing beyond her own crush at times), she grows and learns and continues to be her own person in most situations. She remains who she is: a girl who liked to have fun, but who is also willing to work hard for classes that capture her interest, who is proudly part of the Geek Conglomerate, and who loves to read. She is so much her own person. Did I mention I really like her?
Ana recommended this book to me after we extendedly discussed academia and privilege during my visit. Whatever direction the discussion took, it always came down to Ana saying that I really should read The Disreputable History.. And she was right. A lot of the broader discussions surrounding gender, power, and privilege that you will encounter in many places in life, not necessarily only on a posh boarding school, were instantly recognisable. Added to that is the feel-good vibe of Frankie showing it all up. I think this will be a book I return to in the future, whenever I need a pick-me-up that will make me feel justified in my feminism and happy and smiling at the same time.
Other Opinions: As I said, everyone has written about this book.