Gruntled: or, The Disreputable History
4 July 2011
It’s much lighter and funnier than Suzanne Collins’ stellar The Hunger Games, but E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is a far more overtly feminist young-adult novel than the former — and it won my heart with the protagonist’s geeky fixation on grammar: specifically, neglected positives. That is, those words that get hidden behind their negative counterparts (petuous inside impetuous, gruntled inside of disgruntled, turbed instead of disturbed). These words almost never exist in real life — hence “neglected positives.” I mean, c’mon — a heroine with a thing for words? Be still, my heart!
There’s more than that, though. The author doesn’t belabor the point, but Frankie’s eptness with neglected positives in particular has a feminist ring. An elite prep-school kid, she’s begun to put her finger on — with wry perceptiveness — all the weird power games that give high school life its structure: the way the boys are so oriented to one another, the way the girlfriends of the popular boys try to matter, the way no one complains that the popular kids have monopolized the best table in the cafeteria. She’s especially annoyed with gender politics. Her fixation with neglected positives is a subtle analogy for uncovering the possibility for female/geek power underneath the dominant (negative) world of boys and popular coolness.
But between a class that has her read Michel Foucault‘s ideas about the panopticon — seriously, a young adult novel that invokes Foucault?! — and about the Cacophony Society/Suicide Club/SantaCon movements in San Francisco (groups that staged elaborate public pranks that encouraged people to reconsider the world they live in), Frankie has a plan. She determines to become a criminal mastermind: infiltrate the all-male secret society on campus, manipulate them into thinking that Frankie’s ideas for practical jokes come from a boy, and orchestrate pranks that criticize the status quo at school. The boy members of the secret society are utterly plussed — delighted, even — about their own pranks until people start getting caught and the group’s lack of true leadership by a boy is revealed.
Totally enjoyable. I stumbled across this book because of Bitch Magazine’s list of young-adult novels for feminist readers — and if this is any indication of the rest, I can see that this summer’s going to be full of great reading. I’m completely gruntled.