Study Guide

Frankie Landau-Banks in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

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Frankie Landau-Banks

A Girl in Love

At the beginning of the novel, Frankie's a fairly typical 15-year-old girl. She is a little apprehensive about returning to school and just hopes that the boy she likes will notice her. In fact, she's so smitten with Matthew that she falls over as soon as she sees him:

She caught sight of him walking down the path and was so engrossed in watching the way his hips rolled underneath the waist of his ratty khakis that—dumb, girly—she lost control of her bicycle, spun onto the grass, and fell over. (7.8)

The girl's literally head over heels for Pete's sake. So it's no wonder that when he invites her to the golf course party, she's thrilled. And when he kisses her, she can't believe her good fortune. She's Matthew Livingston's girlfriend. It's all an unbelievable dream to her. But, despite all the fluttery feelings that Frankie has for Matthew, she doesn't let the relationship define her completely. She's much too fierce for that.

A Young Feminist

See, our little Frankie's a bit of a budding feminist. So while she's got some major butterflies going on when Matthews around, she's not about to go completely gaga. She's got opinions of her own, and she's not afraid to use 'em.

That makes her different from some of the other girls in the novel (Star comes to mind, for one), so we have to ask—where'd she get that feminist streak of hers? Well, a lot of it may come from Zada, who is the Landau-Banks family's feminist numero uno. Zada's the one who points out all the injustices at Alabaster and in the world at large to Frankie, which really rocks the younger sister's world:

[Frankie] had been getting along okay at Alabaster Prep […] despite the fact that their boarding school was (as her older sister Zada pointed out) an institution where the WASPs outnumbered the other Protestants ten to one, the Catholics were pretty much in the closet, and the members of "the tribe" had largely changed their names from things like Bernstein to things like Burns. (2.4)

As Frankie learns from Zada, Alabaster prep is not exactly a bastion of diversity. It's a place of conformity, where the Catholics, Jews, and other minorities are all either "in the closet," or are outwardly trying to look like WASPs (or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Revelations like that shake up Frankie's world, and as she grows up and begins to come to her own conclusions, Zada's ideas about a girl's self worth and how she should focus on her independence and not on impressing boys starts to resonate with Frankie more and more.

Which, of course, means that she's not going to let herself be defined by some boy or some relationship, no way. She doesn't even like it when Matthew tells her not to change because it's as though he owns her, which—hello—he doesn't. Even though she's flattered that he said that he liked the way she was, she was thinking inwardly that she could be any way she wanted, because "[…] you, Livingston, are not the boss of me and what kind of girl I become" (13.7).

If she hates the implication that he can tell her how she should be, she hates being left out of his boy's club even more. As she observes, sitting with him and his friends at the table,

And because of her sex, because of her age, because (perhaps) of her religion and her feminism, she could sit at their table every day and she would never, never, ever get in. (26.49)

See, Frankie's smart. She knows the way the world works. She knows that she can never be a member of the Basset hounds, and, more importantly, she can never be a part of Matthew's inner circle. She just doesn't fit in his world, because she's a girl, and she's different.

But Frankie isn't just content to throw up her hands and say that this is how things are. Oh no. Our sassy Frankie is much more of a "down with the patriarchy" kind of girl. If the Order won't let her in, then she'll infiltrate it on her own terms. She's not going to sit around and let the boys have all the fun without her.

A Sneaky Prankster

So what does our girl Frankie do? She takes charge. Not only does she infiltrate the Order, she infiltrates it at the upper-most echelon, by impersonating the Alpha—literally, the top dog. It's a clever power play, since Alpha's the one who's been stealing all her time with Matthew away. And the shenanigans that she masterminds while she's in charge of the Order are straight-up genius:

In the month of November, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds experienced a surge in activity that surpassed anything they'd accomplished since 1968. (37.1)

All that activity can be traced back to Frankie, who's arguably the best, most kickbutt Alpha the Order has seen in decades. She lives out her life like she's in her own private spy movie—sneaking through tunnels, stealing school keys, and jabbing at the administration in little, very annoying ways. And of course she manages to up the ante by designing clever pranks that go much farther than those the original Alpha had planned.

A Social Critic

That's because Frankie isn't all about pranking for pranking's sake. She wants to challenge the status quo, to break the rules that don't make sense to her. She wants to expose the institution of Alabaster for what it truly is—a place of privilege and conformity. But why listen to Shmoop when you can hear it from the horse's mouth?

I would like to point out that many of the Order's escapades were intended as social criticism. And that many of the Order's members were properly diverted from more self-destructive behaviors by the activities prescribed them by me. So maybe my actions contributed to a larger good, despite the inconveniences you, no doubt, suffered.

I do understand the administration's disgruntlement over the incidents. I see that my behavior disrupted the smooth running of your patriarchal establishment. And yet I would like to suggest that you view each of the Loyal Order's projects with the gruntlement that should attend the creative disobedience of students who are politically aware and artistically expressive. (1.6-7)

Now if that's a strongly worded letter, we don't know what is. Sure, Frankie fesses up, but she does so in a way that shows she's not in the least bit sorry for what she did. That's because Frankie believes she was working toward a greater good. She wants Alabaster to admit that it's not so alabaster after all—that it's a stuffy old boy's club that treats girls, minorities, and other outsiders with indifference.

So while you may not agree with Frankie's methods, you've got to admire her spunk. Sure, she wreaked some havoc, but here's hoping that she taught those stodgy geezers as lesson along the way. That's why, in the end, "Frankie appreciated both the accolades and the rejections equally, because both meant she'd had an impact" (46.2).

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