Study Guide

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks Themes

By E. Lockhart

  • Betrayal

    Everyone's betrayed in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, depending on how you look at it, and it's all thanks to Frankie. While she betrays her friends, boyfriend, and even her father by infiltrating the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, it's not as if Frankie hasn't tasted her fair share of betrayal, either. After all, her boyfriend's lying to her face, and the Old Boys' club that is Alabaster keeps trying to squash her spirit at every turn.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Did Frankie really mean to betray Matthew? Did she just not care?
    2. What do you think is a bigger betrayal in a relationship: the way Frankie lied to Matthew about what she was doing, or the way that Matthew underestimated his own girlfriend? What makes you say so?
    3. Do you think that Senior is mad at Frankie for what she did? Why or why not? 
    4. What do you make of Alpha's reaction to Frankie's betrayal? Why isn't he more upset about it, like Matthew?

    Chew on This

    Though Frankie betrays Matthew by lying to him about what she's doing (or rather, by omitting the truth), to do any differently would have been a betrayal to herself.

    The only reason why Matthew wanted to be with Frankie was because he thought she was pretty and sweet, which ultimately means that he betrays her by rejecting her true self.

  • Lies and Deceit

    There are so many lies flying around in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks that it's hard to keep the facts straight. After all, our heroine Frankie is always sneaking around, lying to Trish about what she's going to use the school keys for (hint: nothing good), and emailing the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds as Alpha. And speak of the devil, Alpha is pretending to actually be behind those emails so as to not lose face with his friends. And Matthew always lies to Frankie about where he's going and why she can't come along. The problem here is that with each lie comes a little betrayal, and pretty soon no one's got a single soul to trust.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Why doesn't Alpha tell his friends about how he didn't send that first email? Wouldn't it make it easier for him to find the perpetrator? 
    2. Why does Frankie lie to Matthew about pulling the pranks? Why doesn't she just tell him the truth? 
    3. Why doesn't Frankie confront Matthew when she knows he's lying? 
    4. Why does Frankie come clean at the end and take the blame for all the pranks that happened? What's her angle?

    Chew on This

    The sad thing is, Frankie's lies do nothing but isolate and alienate her, when all she wants is to be included.

    By lying and pulling her amazingly well thought out plans, Frankie isn't being deceitful; she's actually letting loose the person she really is inside.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Isn't it just the tiniest bit spoiled of Frankie to be dissatisfied with her life? After all, she's got it going on: she's pretty, has a hot boyfriend, is hyper intelligent for her age, and goes to a fancy schmancy private boarding school away from prying parental eyes. But if there's one thing we know about the titular character in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, it's that she doesn't like to be complacent. She can't accept the fact that her boyfriend just wants her to be sweet and pretty, that she can't join her school's secret society because she's a girl, and that everyone underestimates her because she's only a sophomore. Frankie wants to prove herself, and her dissatisfaction propels her forward.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Why can't Frankie be happy with being Matthew's girlfriend? What's missing?
    2. Why is it so important to Frankie that she be a part of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds anyway? Wasn't she always aware that they were a males-only club? Doesn't it seem a bit hypocritical that someone who hates the patriarchy so much is, you know, trying to join it?
    3. What does Frankie's dissatisfaction have to do with the panopticon?

    Chew on This

    Frankie's dissatisfaction with life only materializes when she comes to the realization that she cannot do what she wants because of certain limitations that her society and school put on her.

    Even though Frankie is happy she finally nabbed her crush, she learns that being in a relationship is not all its cracked up to be. She's more satisfied by the chase.

  • Courage

    There are certain parts of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks where you have to bite your nails and hold your breath, because Frankie is doing some pretty crazy and subversive stuff. Stealing keys, sneaking into the hidden tunnels at school, putting bras on school statues, following her boyfriend in stealth mode… these are not shenanigans for the faint of heart. And even when Frankie gets caught and her very own boyfriend furiously turns her in to the authorities, she acts with grace and courage. She admits readily to all the things that she did and faces the consequences. 'Atta girl.

    Questions About Courage

    1. How does Frankie get over her initial reservations about sneaking all around the school and pulling off these crazy pranks? 
    2. Is Frankie ever afraid that Matthew's going to find out what she's doing? Why or why not? 
    3. How do you view Matthew's act of telling on Frankie at the end? Was it an act of courage or vengeance? 
    4. Why does Alpha admit that he admires Frankie? What is it, specifically, that he admires? Do you think Frankie returns the sentiment, in any way?

    Chew on This

    Frankie's pranks are not a result of her courage, but a result of her stubbornness. Real courage would mean that she demand that Matthew include her in stuff—to his face, from the beginning.

    It takes Frankie a lot of guts to tell Matthew what she's been up to, and she does so because she wants him to finally know whom he's dating.

  • Strength and Skill

    No, we're not talking about strength and skill in the huffing and grunting Herculean sense (although that kind of physical gift can be useful if you're pulling pranks). In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, our heroine shows incredible strength and skill without having to perform physical feats of awesomeness. Instead, she quite deviously and brilliantly plans this a bunch of pranks that even Alpha admits (begrudgingly) that he finds incredibly impressive. Not bad for a Bunny Rabbit.

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. Why is Alpha the leader of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds? Is it because he's the most aggressive? Or does he have something else going for him? 
    2. How does Frankie work her magic to manipulate the members of the Loyal Order? What kinds of strengths and skills does that demonstrate?
    3. How is Frankie influenced by her class and the reading she's been doing? In what ways does that reading add to her strengths?

    Chew on This

    Frankie may be excluded from the Loyal Order because she of the so-called gender, but she actually has more strength skill at leading the Loyal Order than Alpha does.

    Frankie doesn't have to rely on the connections she's made at Alabaster to prop her up. Instead, she makes a mark on the world by herself. That's real strength.

  • Gender

    As we're all terribly aware, Frankie of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is a girl. She's a rather pretty girl, having grown into some womanly curves over the summer, but she's still just a girl in the eyes of certain people (ahem, Matthew). And because of that, she's excluded. She can't join the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, she can't come along with Matthew when he's hanging out with Alpha, and she definitely can't be privy to any of their secrets. It's quite the bummer, but she figures out a way to make it work.

    Questions About Gender

    1. How does Frankie benefit from her gender? How does it hold her back?
    2. Does Frankie fully embrace her female-ness at the beginning of the book? Why or why not?
    3. What is the real intent behind Frankie's In Ladies We Trust prank? Why is it her first one? 
    4. We have to ask: is this book a feminist book? Are there ways we could read Frankie's story as being not-so-feminist?

    Chew on This

    Frankie's In Ladies We Trust prank is the first time that she examines the role of women at Alabaster, and it sets off all her other pranks.

    Frankie wants to be with Matthew but not at the cost of her own independence, and she has to learn to stand on her own two feet over the course of the novel.

  • Identity

    On one hand, Frankie's expected to be the baby of her family, the Bunny Rabbit. But on the other hand, she's expected to be Matthew's sweet and sometimes witty (but not too clever) younger girlfriend. But Frankie's true identity is something that no one else expects her to be—a good old-fashioned dissenter. She pranks all the boys and has the school administrators in a tizzy, and thrills in all of it. In that sense, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is simply the story of a girl who comes into her own by shaking off the influences of others.

    Questions About Identity

    1. How does the Frankie we see at the beginning differ from the Frankie we see at the end of the book? Has her inner core changed, or is she still the same girl?
    2. Is Frankie one of those girls who is defined by her relationship? Why or why not? 
    3. What does Frankie learn about herself by the end? Does she regret what she's become in any way?

    Chew on This

    As the story progresses, Frankie relies increasingly less on other people's input in order to make her own decisions. She no longer needs to check in with her friends, her boyfriend, and even Zada because she knows what she's doing. In other words, she's found herself.

    Frankie wants to be a part of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, but in the end, she finds that being her own person is more rewarding than being a part of the collective group.

  • Respect and Reputation

    As Senior puts it, Alabaster is a school where your reputation really does matter because it's where you make your connections for the rest of your life. But in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Frankie comes to the rather sobering realization that she can only gain respect and reputation up to a certain point because she's a girl. Thankfully, Frankie's determined not to let that glass ceiling bonk her in the head, and so she moves forward to become a part of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds anyway… even if she's not technically allowed in. Clever girl.

    Questions About Respect and Reputation

    1. Does Matthew really respect Frankie or does he just like to have her around as his girlfriend? How can you tell?
    2. Why does Alpha email Frankie to let her know that she did a good job with the pranks? Doesn't he hate her? What's going on there?
    3. Why does the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds have such a reputation? 
    4. What do you think is Frankie's reputation around the school? Does it change over the course of the book?

    Chew on This

    At a school like Alabaster, reputation is everything, which is why Frankie works so hard to make herself known and leave an indelible mark.

    Alpha may have a reputation that precedes him, but when he arrives at Alabaster, Frankie makes sure to let him know that he's not the top dog anymore.

  • Rules and Order

    We're aware that high school is already filled with lots of silly (and potentially unnecessary) rules, but in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the titular character's experience with boarding school takes that to a whole new level. The rules at Alabaster, whether spoken or unspoken, range from not traveling via underground tunnel at school to not sitting at the senior table unless seniors are already sitting there. It's a whole lot of tricky terrain for a girl to navigate, especially if she's got a bit of a problem with authority.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. What are some of the rules that Frankie breaks over the course of the book? And what are the particular reasons she breaks each of those rules?
    2. Does Frankie's new class about the art of protest shape the way that she thinks? How so?
    3. What kind of unspoken rules are there at Alabaster that Frankie tries to subvert? Why does she try to subvert them?

    Chew on This

    Frankie's on a quest to find and define the rules that hold her back and then to subvert them.

    Frankie's not breaking rules just because she can; she does so in a thoughtful manner with her pranks and tries to impart a message on the other characters. That's why her pranks are so much more impactful than what the Loyal Order had planned to begin with.

  • Coming of Age

    Besides the natural physical changes that occur for Frankie in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, our heroine also undergoes some major transformations as she moves toward adulthood: falling in love for the first time, finding her identity, and even getting in trouble (and handling it like a boss). Frankie wastes no time in growing up and taking charge of her life. Even if it means losing that dreamy boyfriend she always wanted in order to stay true to herself.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. When Frankie starts off the school year, has her outlook changed from the year before? Why or why not? 
    2. How does Frankie grow in her relationship with Matthew? Does Matthew grow in any way?
    3. How are the pranks a reflection of Frankie's increasing confidence?
    4. Could Frankie have stayed with Matthew if she hadn't matured so much? Do you think they might have a future somewhere down the line when they're both a bit older? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Frankie enters the school year not really knowing who she is, but over the course of the novel, she grows into a young woman who is sure of her convictions.

    Even though Matthew may like the way Frankie looks now that she is older, he can't really handle her intellectual maturity, and their relationship falls apart because of it.