Plot: Frankie Landau-Banks is about to start her second year at Alabaster academy. She used to be a rather unremarkable member of the debate team, someone no one remembers. But over the summer, Frankie’s curves filled out and suddenly she catches the eye of two of the most attractive and popular boys at school. They are also key members of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hound, not that they would ever tell her about it. Frankie not only wants to join this secret all-boys club but she wants to do it better than them, committing pranks on a scale that has not been seen in decades. This is her disreputable history.
I knew that Frankie would be one of my very favorite female characters when I read about Frankie’s reaction to a terrible party. Lockhart explains that “when confronted with the peculiarly male nature of certain social events”, some young women stay home and do more feminine things, some attend and are bored, others throw themselves into the activity (becoming “one of the boys”) but Frankie tries to figure out how to do it better. She is sneaky and intelligent with a keen social conscience and the guts to make a statement no matter the risk. Her pranks are both funny and thrilling and I was living vicariously through her every step of the way.
She also has a sense of whimsy that really appealed to me, especially in the ways in which she plays with language. She enjoys using neglected positives, whether they are real, imaginary or false, so the the book is littered with words liked “gruntled”, “ept” and “parage”. As someone who has committed similar silliness, I was completely charmed. When her boyfriend Matthew tried to mansplain her neglected positives away, I knew he wasn’t the guy for me (and that Frankie deserved better).
This is not a romantic book, in case you were wondering. There are gorgeous boys, kissing and romances but Lockhart’s relationships, romantic and otherwise, are very realistic and for this reason they are sometimes disappointing and sometimes they don’t work out. Frankie loves her gorgeous boy and is terrified of losing him and the friends she has made through him but at the end of the day she realizes that she wants (and deserves) a boyfriend who acknowledges her fierce intelligence and her accomplishments. And that’s just another way in which she proves how brave she is.
No matter how much I loved this book (and I loved it a LOT), the former humanities student in me cringed at all the references to Foucault and the panopticon. I can picture the very class in which I first learned about Discipline and Punish many, many years ago. I was in no hurry to revisit Foucault but Lockhart makes very good use of his ideas in her story. For her it is all about the ways we regulate ourselves for fear of an invisible/non-existent observer. Frankie refuses to be bound but these unspoken rules anymore and in her refusal turns both her school and its secret society on their heads.
This was exactly the book I needed when I read it. I got through it in a single work day (no, I did not read when I should have been working, though it was tempting). If you are looking for a strong female character, a sleuthy lady and lost of boarding school hijinks, read this book. You will not regret it.