Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Story Makes Me Gruntled

I've read a lot of coming-of-age books about boys this summer, so it's a pleasant shift to read one with a female protagonist. I stumbled upon The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart in the library yesterday, and without any prior knowledge, brought it home and read the entire thing in one afternoon. I take joy in finding characters to whom I relate, and I relate to Frankie even more than most.

Frankie is beginning her sophomore year at a New England prep school. Over the summer she transformed from a skinny geek to a pretty teen, but Frankie's physical changes are irrelevant to her self esteem. She's perfectly aware that she has become more attractive, but she didn't like herself any less when she was an awkward freshman. Her story takes place over the course of the fall semester as she dates a popular senior, discovers the school's secret fraternity, and masterminds several elaborate pranks.

(Frankie is also a P.G. Wodehouse fan and spends an entire chapter explaining a linguistic joke she developed based on Wodehouse's language. That alone would endear her to me.)

Whereas most teens (both in novels and in life) suffer angst about who they are and where they fit in, Frankie already knows herself. She knows that she's smart and funny and charming. She's aware of her dark side. Whereas most teens are aching to be prettier, more popular, more accepted, or more loved, Frankie just wants someone else to know her with the same clarity she knows herself. On the surface, some of her complaints deal with gender bias or an oppressive institutionalized culture, but ultimately Frankie's frustrations stem from her hope that her friends and family will come to understand her true character.

Although her epiphany is not free of heartbreak, Frankie realizes: "It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can't see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than to stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people." Frankie's experience mirrors so much of my life. My appearance improved over the course of my teen years, but even in my frizzy, gawky days, I knew who I was and liked who I was. I'd rather be understood by a few than liked by everyone. And my marriage is so happy, not simply because my husband and I love each other, but because we know each other deeply and completely.

Disreputable History is lighter than many of the similarly set books I've read (e.g., Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Secret History, Prep); the language is cleaner, there are fewer references to sex and alcohol, there's no violence, and most of the characters are decent people--students who enjoy learning as well as play and are rarely cruel to each other.


Stephanie said...

Nice post -- makes me want to read the book. But, alas, I need to read textbooks on parallel computing.

Felix Grant said...

Stephanie - as someone who teaches parallel computing, I strongly recommend that you leaven those text books with something broader. You'll be a better, more rounded, more sought after programmer for it. Go read Frankie :-)