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The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (National Book Award Finalist)
By E. Lockhart
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* National Book Award finalist *
* Printz Honor *
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Her father's "bunny rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society.
Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew's lying to her.
And when there are so many pranks to be done.
Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.
This is the story of how she got that way.
Copyright © 2008 by E. Lockhart
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.
For information address Hyperion Books for Children,
114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Designed by Elizabeth H. Clark
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
This book is set in Granjon.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
For my college friends Kate, Polly, Cliff,
Aaron, and Catherine, who know all about
golf course parties and midnight adventures
A PIECE OF EVIDENCE
December 14, 2007
To: Headmaster Richmond and the Board of Directors, Alabaster Preparatory Academy
I, Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. I take full responsibility for the disruptions caused by the Order—including the Library Lady, the Doggies in the Window, the Night of a Thousand Dogs, the Canned Beet Rebellion, and the abduction of the Guppy.
That is, I wrote the directives telling everyone what to do.
I, and I alone.
No matter what Porter Welsch told you in his statement.
Of course, the dogs of the Order are human beings with free will. They contributed their labor under no explicit compunction. I did not threaten them or coerce them in any way, and if they chose to follow my instructions, it was not because they feared retribution.
You have requested that I provide you with their names. I respectfully decline to do so. It’s not for me to pugn or impugn their characters.
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 probably 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 civil disobedience of students who are politically aware and artistically expressive.
I am not asking that you indulge my behavior; merely that you do not dulge it without considering its context.
Frances Rose Landau-Banks, class of 2010
Though not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock. Certainly upsetting enough to disturb Frankie’s conservative mother, Ruth, and to rile several boys in Frankie’s New Jersey neighborhood to thoughts (and even actions) they’d never before contemplated.
Frankie herself was unsettled as well.
Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places. Went from being a scrawny, awkward child with hands too big for her arms, a frizz of unruly brown fluff on her head, and a jaw so sharp it made Grandma Evelyn cluck about how “When it comes to plastic surgery, it never hurts to do these things before college,” to being a curvaceous young woman with an offbeat look that boys found distinctly appealing. She grew into her angular face, filled out her figure, and transformed from a homely child into a loaded potato—all while sitting quietly in a suburban hammock, reading the short stories of Dorothy Parker and drinking lemonade.
The only thing Frankie herself had done to facilitate the change was to invest in some leave-in conditioner to tame the frizz. She wasn’t the kind of girl to attempt a makeover. She had been getting along okay at Alabaster Prep without one, 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.
Frankie had gotten by at Alabaster on the strength of being Zada’s little sister. Zada was a senior when Frankie started, and though she’d never been outlandishly popular, Zada had a solid crew of friends and a reputation for speaking her mind. She’d let Frankie tag along with her group of juniors and seniors for the first part of the school year, and made it clear to everyone that Frankie was not to be messed with. Zada had let her little sister sit with her at lunch on an as-needed basis, and introduced her to people from the crew team, the lacrosse team, student government, and the debate team. This last group Frankie joined—and proved to be a surprisingly sharp competitor.
Frankie had held up her part of the bargain freshman year by not embarrassing Zada any more than she could help. She wore the clothes Zada told her to, did fine in her classes, and made friends with a group of mildly geeky fellow freshmen who were neither ostentatiously silly nor tragically lame.
By summer’s end, when she saw Zada off to Berkeley, Frankie was curvy, lithe, and possessed of enough oomph to stop teenage boys in the street when they passed her. But if we are to accurately chronicle Frankie’s transformation and so-called misbehavior in these pages, it is important to note that her physical maturation was not, at first, accompanied by similar mental developments. Intellectually, Frankie was not at all the near-criminal mastermind who created the Fish Liberation Society, and who will, as an adult, probably go on to head the CIA, direct action movies, design rocket ships, or possibly (if she goes astray), preside over a unit of organized criminals. At the start of sophomore year, Frankie Landau-Banks was none of these things. She was a girl who liked to read, had only ever had one boyfriend, enjoyed the debate team, and still kept gerbils in a Habitrail. She was highly intelligent, but there was nothing unusually ambitious or odd about her mental functioning.
Her favorite food was guacamole and her favorite color was white.
She had never been in love.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER THAT WOULD PROVE SEMINAL
The day after Zada departed for Berkeley,
Frankie and her mother went to the Jersey Shore for a four-day weekend with Frankie’s two divorced uncles and three cousins. They rented a creaky five-bedroom house on a tiny plot of cement, two blocks from the beach and boardwalk.
Frankie’s cousins were all between the ages of ten and thirteen. And they were all boys. A pack of vile creatures, in Frankie’s view, given to pummeling one another, throwing food, farting, and messing with Frankie’s stuff unless she locked the door of her bedroom.
Every day, the whole group lugged beach chairs, blankets, pretzels, cans of beer (for the uncles), juice boxes, and sports equipment down to the shore, where they parked themselves for a solid six hours. Frankie couldn’t read a novel without having a sand crab placed on her knee, a bucket of saltwater dumped on her abdomen, or a box of grape juice spilled on her towel. She couldn’t swim without some cousin trying to grab her legs or splashing her. She couldn’t eat without one of the boys nipping a chip off her plate or kicking sand across her food.
On the last day of the vacation, Frankie lay on a beach blanket listening to her balding, gently paunchy uncles discuss the Jackals’ minor-league season. Frankie’s mother dozed in a beach chair. For the moment, at least, the cousins were in the water, having breath-holding contests and occasionally trying to drown one another.
“Can I go into town?” Frankie asked.
Ruth lifted her sunglasses off her face and squinted at her daughter. “How come?”
“To walk around. Get an ice cream. Maybe buy some postcards,” Frankie answered. She wanted to get away from all of them. The togetherness, the sports talk, the farting and pummeling.
Ruth turned to one of her brothers. “Ben, isn’t it, like, fifteen blocks to the center of town? How far would you say it is?”
“Yeah, fifteen blocks,” said Uncle Ben. “She shouldn’t go alone.”
“I’m not going with her.” Ruth put her glasses back on her nose. “I came here to relax on the beach, not look at postcards in tourist shops.”
“I can go on my own,” said Frankie. She didn’t want Ruth with her anyway. “Fifteen blocks is not that far.”
“There are some shady characters around here,” Uncle Ben warned. “Atlantic City is only a few miles north.”
“Bunny, you don’t know your way around,” said Ruth.
“The house is 42 Sea Line Avenue,” replied Frankie. “I make a left on Oceanview and it’s a straight shot to where the shops are. I went to the supermarket with Uncle Paul, remember?”
Ruth pursed her lips. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“What do you think is gonna happen? I’m not getting in a car with any strange men. I have a cell phone.”
“It’s not a town we know,” said Ruth. “I don’t want to argue about this.”
“But what do you think will happen?”
“I don’t want to get into it.”
“How do you think I cross the street when I’m at Alabaster, huh?”
“Because I cross the street when you’re not there, Mom. News flash.”
Uncle Paul spoke. “Let her go, Ruth. I let Paulie Junior go in last year when he was only twelve and he was fine.”
“See?” Frankie turned to her mother.
“Stay out of it, Paul,” snapped Ruth. “Don’t make my life difficult.”
“You let Paulie Junior walk into town and not me? Paulie Junior still picks his nose. That is such a double standard.”
“It is not,” Ruth answered. “What Paul does with Paulie Junior is up to him, and what I do with you is up to me.”
“You’re treating me like a baby.”
“No, I’m not, Bunny,” Ruth said. “I am treating you like a very attractive, still very young, teenage girl.”
“With no brain.”
“With maybe not the best judgment,” said Ruth.
“Since when do I have bad judgment?”
“Since you want to go to town fifteen blocks away when we don’t know the area and you’re wearing a string bikini.” Ruth was cross now. “I wish I’d never let you go shopping for suits with Zada. Really, Frankie, you’re wearing hardly any clothes, you go into town, you get lost, what do you think is gonna happen?”
“I’d call you on the cell.”
“That’s not my point.”
“So what—if I were unattractive, you would let me go?” Frankie asked.
“Don’t start that.”
“How ’bout I stop by the house and put on a dress?”
“If I were a boy, then would you let me?”
“You want to spoil the last day of our vacation with a fight?” snapped Ruth. “Is that what you want?”
“So stop talking back. Leave it alone and enjoy the beach.”
“Fine. I’ll go down the boardwalk.” Frankie stood and shoved her feet into her flip-flops, grabbed the bag where her wallet was, and stalked across the sand.
“Be back in an hour!” called Ruth. “Call me on my cell if you’re going to be late.”
Frankie didn’t answer.
It wasn’t that she wanted postcards—or even that she wanted to go to town so much. It wasn’t that Ruth had too many rules, either; or that Paulie Junior got to go on his own last year.
The problem was that to them—to Uncle Ben and her mother, and maybe even to Uncle Paul—Frankie was Bunny Rabbit.
Not a person with intelligence, a sense of direction, and the ability to use a cell phone. Not a person who could solve a problem.
Not even a person who could walk fifteen blocks all by herself without getting run over by a car.
To them, she was Bunny Rabbit.
In need of protection.
A half hour later and two hundred yards down the boardwalk, Frankie was shivering in that string bikini. She’d eaten half a chocolate frozen custard before the sky had clouded over. Now the cone was giving her chills, but it had cost nearly five dollars and she couldn’t bring herself to throw it away.
Her hands felt sticky and she wished she’d brought a sweatshirt.
“You gonna eat that?”
Frankie turned. Sitting on the edge of the boardwalk with his feet dangling was a husky, sandy-haired boy, about seventeen years old. His small, friendly eyes squinted against the wind, and his nose was dotted with freckles.
“It’s too cold.”
“Can I have it?”
Frankie stared at him. “Didn’t your mama teach you not to beg?”
The boy laughed. “She tried. But it appears I can’t be trained.”
“You really want a frozen custard some stranger has licked? That’s disgusting.”
“So it is,” said the boy, reaching out his hand for the cone. “But only a little.” Frankie let him have it. He stuck out his tongue and touched the custard. Then he squashed the top down into the cone, putting his whole mouth over it. “See? Now the worst is over and it’s just my own spit. And I have a frozen custard for free.”
“You’d be surprised what people will do if you ask them.”
“I didn’t want it anyhow.”
“I know.” The boy grinned. “But you might have given it to me even if you did want it. Just because I asked. Don’t you think?”
“That’s a lot of chutzpah you’ve got there. Don’t let it weigh you down.”
“I hate to see food go to waste. I’m always hungry.” The boy raised his eyebrows, and suddenly Frankie felt that her mother was right about the string bikini. It was not enough clothing.
She was standing in what was basically her underwear, talking to a strange boy.
What was actually smaller than her underwear.
To a cute boy.
“What grade are you in?” she asked. To talk about something ordinary.
“Going into twelfth. And you?”
“You’re an infant!”
“Don’t say that.”
“All right.” He shrugged. “But I thought you were older.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“What school do you go to?”
“It’s in northern Massachusetts.” Frankie said what Alabaster students always say, to avoid the ostentation of admitting they go to one of the most expensive, most academically rigorous private schools in the nation. The way Yale students inevitably say they go to school in New Haven.
“Where?” the boy asked.
“Why, do you know northern Massachusetts?”
“A little. I go to Landmark in New York City.”
“Now you owe me. Where do you go?”
“It’s called Alabaster.”
“Shocker.” A smile crossed the boy’s face.
“Come on. Everyone’s heard of Alabaster. Exeter, Andover, Alabaster. A triumvirate of preparatory academies.”
“I guess so.” Frankie blushed.
“I drove down here just for the afternoon. From the city,” said the boy.
He shrugged. “Yeah. I had a fight with the menstrual unit.”
“My mom. The menstrual unit, the maternal unit, you know.”
“You’re mad at your mom so you’re down here by yourself scrounging custard off girls?”
“Something like that.”
Frankie’s cell buzzed in her bag. “Speaking of. Mothers,” she said. She flipped the phone open. “Mine is on the rampage.”
“Where are you?” Ruth demanded. “I’m walking down the boardwalk and I don’t see you anywhere.”
“I’m by the custard stand. What?”
“Paulie Junior stepped on a jellyfish. We’re packing up. What custard stand? There are at least five custard stands.”
“Hold on.” Frankie didn’t want her mother to see this boy. This smart, strange boy she probably shouldn’t be talking to. And she didn’t want the boy to meet Ruth, either. “She’s yanking my chain,” she told him, and held out her hand. “I gotta go.”
His hand felt warm and solid in hers. “Good luck at school,” he said. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Frankie? Frankie! Who are you talking to?” Ruth’s voice barked from the phone.
“You’re not going to see me around,” laughed Frankie, beginning to walk away. “You live in New York City.”
“Maybe I do and maybe I don’t,” called the boy. “You did say Alabaster, right?”
“I gotta go.” Frankie put the phone back to her ear. “Mom, I’m on my way back. I’ll be there in five. Will you please relax?”
“Good-bye!” called the boy.
Frankie shouted back: “I hope you liked the custard.”
“I like vanilla better!” he called.
And when she turned to look for him again, he was gone.
Frankie’s dad, Franklin, had wanted a son to name after himself. However, he did realize that since Ruth was forty-two when Frankie was born, he probably wasn’t getting one. He decided that he would just name the baby girl something as close to Frank as he could get. So they named her Frances, and called her what they called her.
Senior became Senior, which suited him.
When Frankie was five, her parents had divorced. Ruth found Senior dismissive of her intellectual capacities and personal endeavors. Senior (a WASP atheist) found Ruth’s observant Judaism an irritant, and felt the pressures of maintaining relationships with two young girls and a sometimes cranky wife were infringing upon the perfection of his golf game and his advancement in the medical profession (which wasn’t as stellar as he wished). After separation, Ruth took the kids to live near her family in New Jersey, while Senior remained in Boston, paying monthly visits to the children—and all the boarding school bills.
Senior Banks was a doctor specializing in lung problems. Mentally, however, he was an Old Boy— more concerned with his network of Ivy League cronies than he was with the diseases of his patients. He had attended Alabaster (back when it was all male), followed by Harvard, just as his father had attended Alabaster followed by Harvard.
“Old Boy” means alum, but to Frankie’s mind— even before her intellectual explosion sophomore year—the oxymoron was apt. Senior’s boyhood days were still the largest looming factor in his conception of himself. His former schoolfellows were his closest friends. They were the people he golfed with, the people he invited for drinks, the people whose country homes he visited on vacation. They were people he recommended for jobs; people who sent him patients and asked him to sit on boards of arts organizations; people who connected him to other people. His medical practice had become considerably more profitable in the decade since his divorce from Ruth.
When Frankie was starting sophomore year, she and Ruth drove to Boston and collected Senior for the last leg of the trip. Despite his relative lack of involvement in her life, Frankie’s dad wasn’t going to miss a chance to stroll the old campus and remember his glory days. He and Ruth retained a tight and false goodwill as the car headed into northern Massachusetts.
As he drove, Senior was talking about skating on the pond; going to football games. “These are the best years of your life,” he boomed. “Right now is when you make the friendships that are gonna last you a lifetime. These people will get you jobs, you’ll get them jobs. It’s a network that’s going to give you opportunities, Bunny Rabbit. Opportunities.”
Ruth sighed. “Senior, really. The workplace is more democratic now.”
“If it’s changing,” Senior snorted, “why am I paying for Alabaster?”
“To get her an education?”
“I’m not paying for the education. She could get that for ten thousand less a year. I’m paying for the connections.”
Frankie’s mother shrugged. “I’m just saying, take a bit of the pressure off. Let Bunny find her own way.”
“Hello, Mom,” said Frankie from the backseat. “I can speak for myself.”
Senior took a swig of coffee from a thermos. “I’m being practical, Ruth. This is how the world operates.
You get in with the club, you’re in with the club, and it makes life easier. Then it’s a cinch to meet the right people to get done what you want to get done in the world.”
“It’s not nepotism, it’s how the universe operates. People hire people they know, schools admit people they know—it’s natural. Frankie is forming loyalties— and people are forming loyalties to her.”
“Dad, I’ve already been there a year. You’re talking like I’ve never been to the place.”
“Sophomore year is when it really began to happen for me.”
Frankie thought: Poor Senior. He has no life. Just a memory of a life. It’s pitiful.
And then she thought: I have no friends at Alabaster that I like anywhere near so much as Senior still likes his friends from high school.
Maybe it’s me who’s pitiful.
And then she thought: His whole clubby thing is dumb.
And then she thought: I’d like to go to Harvard.
And then she thought—because this was the thing she’d been thinking about for most of the drive to Alabaster: I wonder if Matthew Livingston will notice me this year.
Information as to the locale and setting of Alabaster, its course requirements, and the sports activities required therein will be given in these pages solely on a need-to-know basis. It is of no relevance to the understanding of either the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, the Fish Liberation Society, or any of the other spurious organizations that committed the so-called crimes at Alabaster, that Frankie Landau-Banks took modern dance and played ultimate Frisbee, though she did. It does not matter that her elective was initially Latin because her father thought she should take it. And it is of no concern how she decorated her dorm room.
It is crucial, however, to understand this: Frankie Landau-Banks was and still is, in many ways, an ordinary girl. She liked clothes and was glad to have grown enough over the summer to necessitate a large school shopping trip. She bought copies of In Touch magazine at the drugstore and remembered silly facts about celebrities. She giggled in a goofy way when she was amused or embarrassed. She felt awkward around popular people, and couldn’t figure out whether she was good-looking or freakishly ugly, because she often felt both within the space of an hour. Starting her sophomore year, she missed her sister, worried about her geometry class, and avoided Porter (the sophomore Spy Club member and lacrosse player who had been her boyfriend October through May of the previous year) in favor of pining after boys who were older than she was and unaware of her existence.
Namely, Matthew Livingston.
Other facts about Alabaster that are of actual importance to this chronicle:
1. Frankie’s roommate, Trish, was a freckled, horsey blonde who’d spent the first half of her summer doing Outward Bound and the second half on Nantucket helping out in a stable. She was one of those people who is friendly to everyone, though not especially close to anyone besides her boyfriend, Artie. Trish was interested in psychology, debate, and baking; she played lacrosse and field hockey and seemed destined to have a house in Kennebunkport. Her teeth seemed like rather more teeth than belonged in her mouth, although all of them were straight and white.
- Artie, Trish’s boyfriend, was a member of the Audio Visual Technology Club (AVT), which meant that he carried keys to quite a number of buildings on campus.
- Alabaster was fully wired—and all the dorms had wireless networks. Every student had a laptop (included in the cost of tuition) and an Alabaster e-mail address.
The Alabaster campus, like that of any preparatory academy that funnels students into Ivy League schools, had many, many buildings, most of which are of no interest. However, take note of these few:
a. an old and largely neglected theater, eclipsed by
b. a newly built arts complex;
c. a founder’s house museum;
d. a chapel with large stained-glass windows featuring the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, several images of the Virgin Mary, and a number of saints, in which was held a mandatory morning assembly at the start of each week;
- A homage to girl-power, the novel offers biting social commentary throughout - not the kind that deadens a story but the kind that gives it punch - and a protagonist who is independent and fearless...—New York Times
- On Sale
- Aug 25, 2009
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers