I, Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds....That is, I wrote the directives telling everyone what to do.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks begins with this confession, dated December 2007. Then it skips back in time to the previous summer, shortly before Frankie begins her sophomore year at the prestigious Alabaster Academy. During that summer, Frankie grows out of her youthful awkwardness and into the full figure of a beautiful young woman. This in itself does not cause her to become the criminal mastermind who causes havoc at her school the following semester. However, it changes how people act toward her, which causes her to change the way she behaves in response.
Just before school starts, Frankie takes a trip to the Jersey Shore with her mother, her two divorced uncles, and her three annoying boy cousins. During this trip, she wants to get away and be by herself. She asks permission to walk into town alone, but her mother says no. Frankie gets angry, feeling that her mother thinks she cannot take care of herself. She resents how people think of her as “inconsequential” and “in need of protection.” As a compromise, her mother lets her take a solitary walk down the boardwalk instead.
A few days later, on the drive to Alabaster, Frankie’s dad gives her a lecture about making close connections with the other kids at school. He is an Old Boy, an alumnus of Alabaster who still relies on the people he knows from high school to get ahead in life. Frankie reflects that he still likes his high school friends more than she likes her friends, most of whom belong to the seminerdy debate-club crowd. She thinks her father’s attachment to high school is pathetic, but she also wonders whether she is the pathetic one for not having cooler friends.
Last year, Frankie had a boyfriend named Porter Welsh, but she broke up with him when she caught him cheating on her. This year, she hopes to be noticed by Matthew Livingston, the coolest, cutest senior boy in school. On the second day of classes, she is delighted to find herself flirting with Matthew. He introduces her to his friends, including a boy who is called Alpha because the others recognize him as the alpha dog of their group. Matthew, Alpha, and the other popular seniors hold most of the social power in the school. This gives them an easy confidence Frankie immediately loves.
A little over a week later, Frankie receives an invitation from Matthew to attend a Friday night party on the school golf course. On this date, she works hard to make cool, witty comments. Matthew says she has an “evil little mind” and calls her “trouble wrapped in a pretty package.” A part of Frankie is annoyed that he calls her mind little and refers to her as a package, but this is overshadowed by her pride that he actually likes her. Soon the two of them are going steady, and Frankie becomes a fixed presence at the senior table in the school cafeteria. Through Matthew, she begins to take part in the exciting social life she has always craved.
One day while studying with Matthew, Frankie reads the following quotation in a book called Code of the Woosters:
He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually being disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
Frankie is delighted with the word gruntled and uses it on Matthew, who does not share her pleasure. He just tells her that gruntled does not mean what she thinks it means, then he gets annoyed when she argues. Afterward, Frankie reflects that many words, like disgruntled, are used often in their negative forms but not in the positive ones. She calls these “neglected positives” and makes a point to use them as often as possible. She also finds negative words that have no positive forms and makes up new positive forms. For example, turbed, meaning “relaxed and comfortable,” is Frankie’s positive form of disturbed. She names these kinds of made-up words “imaginary neglected positives.” Throughout the remainder of the book, she uses such words as often as possible.
Shortly after this, Porter Welsh e-mails Frankie to apologize for cheating on her the previous year. He asks her to meet up with him for a talk. When she sees him, he tells her to be careful of Matthew and not to let him “take advantage.” Frankie shouts at Porter, telling him that she does not need protection just because she is pretty. Afterward, she realizes that she overreacted and acted badly, but she is not really sorry:
Frankie hadn’t liked herself while she’d been yelling at Porter—but she had admired herself....
(The entire section is 1997 words.)