“Please lie about this book”

Made it to last night’s book launch. Results:

Lizzie Ross

wewereliars e. lockhart,  We Were Liars (2014)

This post’s title is what Lockhart wrote when she signed my copy of We Were Liars at her book launch last night.

I’m usually willing to comply with authors’ requests, but any lie I told would be a tip off to the truth, because you’d know I was lying.

So: two truths and a lie (your task is to spot which is which).

1. At last night’s book launch, Lockhart had TRY written on the back of her right hand, and AGAIN on the back of her left. She was quirky, lively, at times silly, and never uncool. She was happy to sign not just my copy of this book, but also my copy of Disreputable History (on which she added “WOOF” in a speech bubble coming from the basset hound’s mouth). She is funny, but she can also be serious. Her summer reading list includes AS…

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Fishbowl as Panopticon

Familiar guises of power, in German

In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, we follow Frankie, a sophomore in a private school in Connecticut, as she pushes the envelope of what is personally and socially acceptable, exploring her sense of self and the Other in her relationship with her boyfriend, Matthew. She discovers her taste for subversive acts, both against the institution, and the boys’ club, the Bassett Hounds, to which her father, now a repressed doctor, once belonged, and in which her boyfriend Matthew, is currently king Dog. She reaps the rewards of seeing herself actively redefined in the eyes of the boys club, the school, her friends and family, and herself, while paying a minimal price for her actions of manipulation and resistance.

Two elements of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks caught my attention: class and privilege, and language. Since one is a key factor in framing the other, my interest lay in showing how language reflects class and privilege, and as an extension, character and identity. Naturally, gender issues are a foundational aspect of the above distinctions as well, and are reflected as well in language.

I enjoyed the wordplay in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. What is possible when a young person is given endless instruction, guidance, support and direction? Everything. Certainly the creative and idiosyncratic use of language, a tool in creating identity; a set of witty and imaginative calling cards that designate cliques; clever monikers reflecting status and roles within peer groups in a school that walks a tightrope between modern values and the codified social and gender hierarchy of the privileged classes.

So Frankie, already impressively developed as the product of endless attention and support,  is given great latitude to find her own voice, her own relationship, her own stance vis a vis male hierarchy and power. And most of it is cost-free. She breaks free of her limited role in her family; she re-defines herself romantically; and she has the luxury of considering becoming a social critic, from a secure, educated position. A win-win situation. The worst hits she receives are occasional grammatical corrections from Matthew, the language freak. Interesting that the ultimate marker of his social status is his  acquisition of the most meticulously developed language, as well as the right to correct any of his peers. Language is power, and everyone in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has mountains of it.

I found myself wondering if I would ever be able to use this book with any student groups I have taught: I finally decided that maybe the girls I taught part-time at the Spence School, an exclusive all-girls school on the Upper East Side, might work. Many key aspects of the life written about in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks are shared by Spence girls, from the easy and blithe access to travel, food, resources, support, encouragement and attention to individual development; to the casual assumption of props, toys, accessories, and goods of any kind. So, while the ease of daily existence shared by almost everyone at Alabaster Preparatory Academy was not dwelt upon much in the book,  class allusions were made to the differences between the merely well-off (Frankie and her doctor father) and the super-rich, (Matthew and his famous newspaper father). The material difficulties of scholarship students such as Alpha were glossed over, while it was clear that Alpha’s method of compensating for his lack of social  and material position was to outdo the others by being “Alpha Dog” amongst the young studly men; his eagerness to abandon public school and return to Alabaster’s privilege and sequestered life indicated his desire to return to the upper class setting of Alabaster.

I also found similarities between the language skills exemplified by each character and their social standing in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the kind of expressive and precocious communications coming from Spence girls, whose every thought, feeling, desire and opinion is articulated, and almost instantly responded to. The myriad ways the administration of Alabaster Preparatory Academy responded to expressions by Frankie and the Bassett Hounds, as well as others — discreetly, diplomatically, politically astute, was the book’s counterpart. A difference  would be that in Alabaster Preparatory Academy,  sexism and gender inequality is passively reinforced through a historic acceptance of the rebelliousness of the (male) Bassett Hounds, and the unchallenged  top social positioning of the upperclass young men. At Spence, the young women play out their power games, like Frankie, against a backdrop of endless support and security, challenging and sometimes taunting their teachers, boyfriends, fathers, chauffeurs, nannies, cooks or tutors. Their self-identities are reinforced by their social positions of power and money and while their all-femaleness is strengthened and supported at Spence, they, like Frankie, might be confronted out in the world by their gender, although still socially supported by their class. For Frankie, the gender issue is the clearest and easiest boundary to push against in a mixed gender school. I kept waiting for Frankie’s ultimate trump: the re-framing of the name of the boys’ club history book, The Disreputable History of the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds into the Reputable Future of the Loyal Order of the Panopticons, a new, all-female challenge to school authority, since the gender restrictions at Alabaster are not to be seriously challenged, just appropriated. If I were teaching this book at Spence, I would target the 5th grade girls, as there the levels of social awareness and sophistication are developed early. I would focus on the gender issues, as well as the creative uses of language.

So, while yes, we as readers can identify and support Frankie in her quest for self-autonomy and identity against a more unconscious projection of her female role in society, it seems imperative to factor in the ease of agency and minimized consequence the world of privilege and class provides her and her circle. I also have to ask: other than Spence girls,who is able to relate to these rarified circumstances? Really?

LD

We need more of this: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

*I am going to preface by saying this post will be more of a mushy gush about how much I loved The Disreputable History instead of a clear analysis. But stay with me here.*

First off, let me start off by saying I could not put down The Disreputable History. I am fairly certain I burned through it in a day,

And I think the main conclusion I walked away with from the end of reading it is that we absolutely, absolutely need more of this kind of YA Lit on the bookshelves. While Frankie’s methods for achieving what she wants may not have been the best way to handle the situation (despite making for ingenious entertainment), the message was clear: it’s okay for a teenage girl to want to be a go-getter (in fact, she should be). I absolutely love this idea of a young teenage girl understanding that while she doesn’t need to apologize for wanting and even enjoying traditionally feminine things (the popular senior boyfriend, for example), they are not worth losing herself and who she yearns to be in the process of it. I think this is a seriously important point that we constantly forget to drive home to our young women in this 21st century world.

Second, frankieI absolutely love, love, LOVE how well the book addresses this concept of connections and bonds in the “Old Boys Club.” While we’ve heard the concept of the glass ceiling time and again- I think this novel really gets to the language and attitude that forms the beams for the ceiling itself. Frankie is constantly called “adorable, sweet, bunny rabbit, pretty, darling, etc” by others, but these are never words she uses to describe herself throughout the novel. Language plays a lot into how women are perceived by others, and Lockhart does an execellent job of showing how quickly people (both friends and family) are prepared to underestimate her based on the way she looks or how they feel she thinks.

Lastly, a particular quote that stuck with me was:

“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 oversensitive); 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.”  (pg 214)

^UGH. THIS. JUST ALL OF THIS.

The boundaries and lines outlined for Frankie (be sweet, adorable, smart-but not too smart, just be what I want to be and nothing more) are ones many young women face at some point when growing into who they want to be. By understanding that they don’t have to prescribe to these conditions already set out for them by society and challenging them, they give themselves a chance to grow into women who can build their own paths–without being boxed into something else along the way.

I say more lit like this on the shelves could really make a difference in the minds of young girls.

Because no one ever wants to be called “harmless” by someone who supposedly cares for them.

-NC

*PO* – SECRETS- SHHH…

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – describes the life of SECRETS!

“SECRETS”

As an adolescent being a part of a secret group makes you feel like your apart of the FBI. Your important and feel needed.

Frankie demonstrates that females can be as great as a male in creating devious pranks and memorable stories among her classmates.

The author’s choice of name’s for the book is very interesting because Frankie can be a boy’s name, just like it can be a girl’s name. Frankie in this tale plays the role of both, even though she taking on the role of Alpha.  Alpha is another name you can analyze because Alpha is a term to describe the leader of a pack. It can be used as a term to describe the strongest leader.

All this analyzing of names is connected to a secret a secret identity the characters have and the author creates to make his story more interesting. A secret can cause a person to wonder, imagine, and believe in things that can change someone’s life.

Does anyone remember of a time that a secret in high school gave them an upper hand?

Does anyone remember a time when a secret ended a friendship during high school?

Which prank do you believed Frankie loved the most?