The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, a 2009 Printz honoree by E. Lockhart isn't my typical read. I don't normally relate to girls who have everything and Frankie most definitely does. During her fifteenth summer, she transforms into a girl boys notice. She's barely begun her sophomore year at a prestigious boarding school when she snags the attention of senior, Matthew Livingston, the most popular boy on campus. It launches her into an select circle of boys who belong to a decades old secret society called The Basset Hounds.
Frankie's father was a Basset Hound and he reveals just enough about the society to plant a seed of curiosity in Frankie. Hoping for an invitation to the club, she tries to distract Matthew from her face and body and impress him with her keen mind. But The Basset Hounds has been exclusively male since its founding in 1941 and the members aren't about to change that. When no invitation is offered, Frankie activates Plan B. Taking on the leader's identity via email, she organizes a series of pranks so ingenious the whole school is buzzing. To save face, the real leader takes credit, just as Frankie planned.
Plotting bigger and bigger escapades, Frankie controls the Bassets like a puppet master. For awhile, she's satisfied with the thrill of proving to herself she's brighter than Matthew and his cohorts. But a part of her wants the boys to recognize her efforts. When her pranks push the headmaster to threaten severe punishment, Frankie is faced with a dilemma. How far will she go to get the Bassets' attention and who will get hurt in the meantime?
As a reader who relates to outcasts, it wasn't easy stepping into Frankie's shoes. But while Frankie isn't an outsider, she's also never been special or part of the popular crowd. I did relate to her need to be accepted and even more so, to her desire to be intellectually respected. I enjoyed Lockhart's thought-provoking, imaginative style and I'd like to think if Frankie and I met today, we'd find something to talk about.
We've just passed the mid-year mark and I challenged myself to read five Newberry and Printz awarded books. Each. This year. In March, I reviewed Terry Pratchett's Dodger and you haven't heard a peep out of me since. But honestly, I have been reading and to make up for falling behind, I'll feature one book a week for the next few weeks, starting with The Underneath, Kathi Appelt's Newberry honoree.
First, a word about book covers. I'm very influenced by them. I love animals and I enjoy humor and I saw both in this cover by David Small. Even though the blurb talked about the mean man who owns the dog, the tone of the artwork reassured me this would be a whimsical, light-hearted read.
Which is why I should not be trusted to judge books by their covers. The Underneath is a story of animal cruelty and although it's told beautifully, there's little humor in it. Ranger is the old hound chained underneath the house of Garface, a human with not one drop of compassion. Torturing animals seems to be Garface's one joy in life and Ranger gets the worst of it. When an abandoned mama cat has two kittens under Ranger's porch, he's overjoyed, yet terrified they'll be discovered. Appelt writes:
No father has ever been prouder of his brood. Ranger watched over his cat family like the pharaohs watched over the Nile, like the stars watched over the sleeping Earth, like the beach watched over the sea.
Appelt is no doubt, a gifted poet and she weaves a compelling, page-turning tale. Tension mounts as the kittens grow bolder and more curious. Despite Ranger's and their mama's warnings to never stray from underneath the house, it's only a matter of time before one of them is tempted by the sunlit yard where Garface is sure to see them.
I'll stop there and let you read the book to learn their fate. It's a tough read but worthwhile. Abuse happens and I admire Kathi Appelt for facing it head on.
To make up for this heavy review, next week, we'll look at something distinctly humorous: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Which also features a hound. But this one is idolized.
And now, here's a rough sketch of the cover I might do for The Underneath. Animals hiding from a man with a gun shouts, "This book is apt to contain terrifying moments for animal characters." And it would probably be a marketing disaster! David Small's cover is way more appealing.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor