The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

by E. Lockhart
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1997

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.

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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. For not being the littlest one at the table, like she had been all her childhood.

Matthew often ditches Frankie to hang out with his guy friends, especially Alpha. When she asks what he does with the guys, he is evasive, and she suspects he is lying. She soon begins to suspect that he is a member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all-male secret society that her father belonged to when he attended Alabaster. It bothers her that Matthew would keep such a big part of his life secret from her. When a friend of hers gets dumped by one of Matthew’s friends and ends up being ignored by all the guys in the group, Frankie realizes the same thing could happen to her. She becomes determined to be accepted in her own right, not just as Matthew’s girlfriend.

One night Matthew cancels a date with Frankie. She follows him and witnesses a meeting of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. The boys recite an oath of loyalty, drink a few beers, and discuss lame ideas for the Bassets’ traditional Halloween prank. Although the meeting itself is fairly uninteresting, Frankie is consumed by a desire to be a part of the boys’ camaraderie. She knows from her father that the club’s history is recorded in a book called The Disreputable History of the Basset Hounds, but she learns from the boys’ conversation that they have no knowledge of this text. Frankie soon realizes that the Basset Hounds’ oath contains secret instructions to the book’s whereabouts. She sets out to find it.

After Frankie finds the book, she has more information about the Bassets and their pranks than the boys do, but she still has no way to gain acceptance by the group. She knows the boys’ plans for their Halloween prank are uninspired, so she creates a Gmail account in Alpha’s name and sends the boys instructions to do a bigger, better prank. On her orders, they dress the school portraits in bras and cover the library’s dome so that it looks like a huge breast. Afterward, she expects to be found out, but Alpha takes credit for planning the prank.

Alpha sends messages to the e-mail account Frankie has created in his name, demanding to know who she is. She refuses to tell. She masterminds a series of additional pranks, using the Disreputable History as inspiration. On her instructions, the boys put drawings and models of basset hounds all over the school, wear dog masks to a holiday concert, and stage a rebellion that forces the school administration to offer better vegetables in the cafeteria. Alpha continues to take credit for these actions among the boys, but he also sends increasingly angry e-mails to Frankie’s Gmail address, demanding that she stop impersonating him.

Because Frankie’s position as the new Basset leader is anonymous, she is no more accepted by the boys than she was before she started. Matthew continues to lie to her about his activities, and he breaks some Thanksgiving plans with her so he can hang out with Alpha and the guys instead. Frankie is forced to spend the holiday hanging out with her family, who call her by her longtime nickname, Bunny Rabbit, and treat her as an unthreatening, inconsequential person as usual.

When she returns to school, Frankie makes the Bassets kidnap a guppy statue that has been part of the Alabaster landscape throughout the school’s history. Later she sends the school headmaster, several teachers, and some members of the janitorial staff on a scavenger hunt to find the statue. The prank gets the attention of the entire school, and Frankie is proud. She tries to talk to Matthew about the meaning of the trick, but he brushes off her ideas and, as usual, lies about his participation. Frankie is annoyed and walks away.

Frankie goes to the steam tunnels to clean up some twine—a remnant of the latest prank that she forgot to tell any of the boys to clean up. Alpha has also noticed the oversight, and he is already there to do the job. In her haste to get away before he sees her, Frankie burns herself on a steam pipe and drops the Disreputable History. Outside the tunnels, she runs into a janitor who says he is looking for the person responsible for the “vandalism” the Bassets have been doing. Like everyone else, he assumes Frankie could not be responsible. He tells her not to worry her “pretty head about a thing.”

The next day, the burn on Frankie’s arm is so bad she has to go to the nurse’s office. Mathew finds her there and tells her that Alpha has been caught. The school headmaster is angry, and he is going to expel Alpha for the Basset Hounds’ pranks. Frankie pressures Matthew to tell the truth, but he pretends he had nothing to do with the Bassets. Frankie explains what she has done. She wants him to understand and to respect her the way he respects Alpha. Instead he listens to her story and calls her “seriously sick.” He accuses her of lying, and when she points out that he has been lying too, he says:

I was being loyal...to a group of guys I’ve known for four years, if not since childhood. Loyal to a society that’s existed for more than fifty years. What were you being loyal to, huh?

Frankie attacks him for his “double standard,” but he does not see the issue her way. He says he is going to turn her in, and he walks out.

Frankie, a legacy student with no previous record of bad behavior, narrowly escapes expulsion for her role in masterminding the Basset Hounds’ pranks. Both she and Alpha are allowed to remain at Alabaster on probation, but now people do not treat her as harmless and inconsequential anymore. At home over Winter Break, she is no longer Bunny Rabbit, but nobody seems sure how to talk to her. She receives an e-mail from Alpha:

I’m just writing to say I underestimated you....I don’t actually think it’s possible to overestimate you. Although you are not a nice person.

Reading these words, Frankie feels better. She has managed to impress Alpha, the leader of the confident, popular boys she finds so compelling. She does not reply to the message. Withholding a reply gives her more power.

Back at Alabaster after Winter Break, Frankie finds herself a hero among the geeky kids. However, Matthew and his friends refuse to speak to her. Frankie gives them some time, and then she tries once to get Matthew to talk to her. He brushes her off, acting repulsed by her presence. She is briefly saddened, but then she realizes that she would rather be strong and alone than belittled in a relationship:

She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be. That Bunny Rabbit is dead.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1032

Author: E. Lockhart (b. 1967)

First published: 2008

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-Age

Time of plot: 2007

Locale: the Jersey Shore; northern Massachusetts

Principal characters

Frankie Landau-Banks, a fifteen-year-old boarding-school student

Zada Landau-Banks, Frankie's self-assured older sister

Matthew Livingston, Frankie's boyfriend

Trish, Frankie's roommate

Alpha, Matthew's friend

The Story

In a written confession, Frankie Landau-Banks takes full responsibility for the mayhem that took place on campus during her sophomore year.

Several months earlier, during the summer between Frankie's freshman and sophomore years, Frankie develops physically into a very noticeable young woman. The change takes her by as much surprise as it does her older sister, Zada, and the rest of her family.

The day after Zada leaves for her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley, Frankie's mother decides to take Frankie for a short vacation to the Jersey Shore. Frankie has finally earned the privilege of walking up the boardwalk by herself, so she heads off in her bikini, but she soon starts feeling cold and conspicuous. When she encounters an attractive boy who asks for her unfinished chocolate frozen custard, she is interested in him but does not pursue him, assuming she will never see him again. Frankie's mother interrupts their conversation with a phone call that leaves Frankie feeling embarrassed, and the boy tells her he will see her soon.

On the drive to Alabaster Preparatory Academy in Massachusetts to begin her sophomore year, Frankie and her mother pick up Frankie's father, who talks to Frankie about these years being the best of her life. He expounds on the importance of the connections she will make at school, reminding her that she could be educated elsewhere for far less money, and he is paying for the connections she will make. Frankie feels sorry that his best days took place when he was fifteen, but she can see that his business and social connections all go back to his time at Alabaster. She would like to go on to Harvard University, as he did, and she would also like to have connections that last a lifetime.

Soon after arriving at school, Frankie bumps into Matthew Livingston, a boy two grades ahead of Frankie whom she has had a crush on for quite a while. The two begin to date, and she is introduced to his world of old-boy friendships in the making. Frankie soon learns that the boy she met at the beach also goes to Alabaster and is called Alpha because he is the head of the secret, male-only society on campus. She secretly follows Matthew when he cancels plans with her at the last minute and finds out who the other members are.

It becomes obvious that there is no way a girl can gain true access to the bonds shared by these boys. When one of them breaks up with his girlfriend, the rest of the group shuns her, and Frankie realizes that she is only in their lives and only shares their friendships because she is Matthew's girlfriend. When Alpha is away on a weekend retreat with his mother and cannot be contacted, Frankie decides to do something that she believes will earn her the lasting respect of Alpha and the other boys.

Frankie creates a fake e-mail account in Alpha's name and sends instructions to each of the boys, detailing the parts they are to play in a prank. Frankie's prank is far more sophisticated than the original plan Alpha and the group had planned, so when Alpha returns, rather than admit he had nothing to do with it, he takes the credit so as not to risk losing the respect of the group. Frankie continues to lead the boys in pranks while maintaining her anonymity, and she and Alpha being an e-mail correspondence in which she gains a grudging respect for him. Through it all, Frankie is frustrated to realize that she will never be completely accepted as part of the old-boy network simply because she is a girl.

When Alpha is caught is the school's underground tunnels and is accused of masterminding the pranks, Frankie steps forward to confess her part and save Alpha's prospects for the future. She is not punished severely, in part because she is a girl. When she sees Matthew again, she realizes that she wants more than to be an appendage to a good-looking, successful guy. She concludes that “it is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people.”

Critical Evaluation

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, first published in 2008, is a coming-of-age story with a twist. Frankie's struggles with the old-boy network is brought to life with well-chosen scenes that bring Frankie's feelings of longing and alienation to life. Her older sister and roommate are well-drawn characters who provide outside interpretations of the events as Frankie works to understand her own reactions. Her questioning of the status quo is perfectly in line with her overall questioning of societal expectations and her place in the world.

Alabaster is depicted in ways that bring both the physical aspect of the school and the students' relationships with it and its traditions to life. The different groups and they ways they interrelate are well described.

Frankie's parents are drawn as one-dimensional characters. Her mother still perceives her as a little girl, and her father expresses his love for her, yet views her as ineffectual and the next-best thing to having a son.

Frankie's growing self-awareness is believable. She is not a girl who is content to merely accept things at face value, even things that make her happy. Just as believable is the conclusion she draws about the type of person she wants to be.

Further Reading

  • Bucher, Katherine T., and KaaVonia Hinton. Young Adult Literature: Exploration, Evaluation, and Appreciation. 3rd ed. New York: Pearson, 2014. Print.
  • Hill, Crag, ed. The Critical Merits of Young Adult Literature: Coming of Age. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.
  • Wethern, Sarah. “31 Days of Teens' Top Ten—Legacy of Frankie Landau- Banks.” The Yalsa Hub. ALA, 12 May 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. <http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2011/05/12/31-days-of-teens-top-ten-legacy-of-frankie-landau-banks/>.

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