This book, in a single word, is unsettling. I found it to be very unsettling. I just finished it and came right here to write about it (well, I cooked a frozen pizza first, because I was hungry, but I was thinking about it the whole time), and that doesn't happen very often.
Frankie Landau-Banks is a high school sophomore who has recently undergone a growth spurt in all the right places, resulting in a new figure that she's not sure exactly how to deal with. She attends a (fictional) boarding school that's right up there with Exeter and Andover in terms of being the home for future Old Boys. Frankie's dad is an Old Boy, and she's grown up listening to his stories and his connections. Frankie, in listening to these stories, has been struggling to reconcile this world with her Jewishness, her femaleness, and her up-until-now annonymousness. This school year, though, is starting to look different. Matthew Livingston, a smart, hot, connected senior, is interested in her, she's getting to know the most popular kids of the school, and she's feeling like she's coming into her own a little bit.
Frankie, though, never loses sight as how the others see her - a girl, Mathew's girlfriend, expendable. She's troubled by this, and desperately wants to be part of a world that has been closed off to her.
Then, finally, she sees her chance, not just to bring herself into the world of the future Old Boys, but to also shake up the very system that surrounds Alabaster, and all other prep schools. But what will she have to do to make it happen? How will the fallout change Frankie, Matthew, their relationship, and the school? Can Frankie become a future Old Boy while still being herself? How much of herself is predetermined by her sex, gender, religion, and society? What does it mean to be a woman with power - and how is a woman with power viewed differently than a man with power?
The book, I think, has been set up (by publishers/marketers?) as looking like a thriller; the envelope-heavy first cover brings mystery and maybe a bit of menace to the reader (and I love the hardcover picture so much more than the softcover picture). The title and the first chapter hint at something maybe sexual, but that's a bit of a red herring, too. There are many forms of feminism present in this book: Frankie, competing in a man's world; her older sister Zada, who 'threw away' the Alabaster life to attend Berkeley; Frankie's roommate Trisha, who has strong ideas about her own abilities and critically thinks about society, and prefers to bake crumbles (peach, rhubarb) while the men get drunk and bond at late-night parties. I liked that, largely, there were no teachers present in this book; there was no feminist model for Frankie to either emulate or disappoint, and so she had to rely on herself to figure things out. I liked the action, the pacing, and the language of the books.
I think this would make an excellent movie, but I'm not sure how they'd market it and I don't know who would see it - which is one of the very issues that the book presents, indirectly.
I've always loved the idea of boarding school; I wanted to attend one when I was in high school. When I was in my early tween and teens, I attended a second-language summer school held at a boarding school, and lived and studied there on the campus; years later, I attended an old university with lots of history and lots of traditions and institutions like the ones featured here. But in both instances, I was the wrong age - too young or too old - and there's something perfect about people coming of age in a boarding school. As Frankie at one point explains, everything is accelerated when there are no parents and no places to go.
I really, really enjoyed this book and wish I had read it sooner. It's one of those books I'm going to be thinking about and talking about for a long time to come.
Find the book at Amazon.
Read it with:
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
Click: Young Women on the Moment They Knew They Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan (out May 2010)
I got this book: from the library.