One year Frankie’s was an intelligent and slightly geeky 14-year-old, the next she gains “four inches in height and twenty pounds in all the right places.” These changes make all the difference in her social standing at Alabaster, the elite boarding school she attends. For a start, she starts dating Matthew, the senior at the top of the social food-chain. He’s handsome, popular, rich, and of course practically didn’t know she existed until now.
Through Matthew Frankie gains access to the cool kids’ group, including secret midnight parties and the right to sit down at the “senior’s table”. She soon finds out that he’s also part of an all-male (in)famous secret Society from which she’s obviously excluded. So Frankie devises a plan to anonymously take over the Society. She does a great job of it, but what would happen if people knew that the master-mind behind it all is not only a sophomore girl, but someone they’re just use to thinking about as Matthew’s pretty appendix?
The plot might sound like your regular YA ugly duckling novel, but you’re in for a surprise. It’s actually a clever and fresh approach to what’s it like to be a smart girl growing up and facing heads-on what Nymeth very well called the “invisible barriers”.
As I’ve mentioned, it’s a book that makes you look back to your own experiences, so here’s me getting personal: I don’t remember ever being discriminated during school or on a professional level because I’m a woman. I know I’m very lucky in this and I’m sure it helped that I always chose comfortably “feminine” areas: I did high-school in a leftist arts schools, in college I studied Advertising and Marketing and then went on to work in corporate communications.
I was never really challenged in those parts of my life, so although some friends and even my boyfriend consider me a feminist *, this never was a dominant issue in my life. Not as another point that came out strongly in the book and really hit a cord: “knowing your place in the world”.
Kids at Alabaster knew theirs, especially the boys who were the elite among the elite. That confidence paved the road to their success and leadership. Frankie wandered several times what it must be like to be that sure of your own potential, and I wondered along with her.
I was born and raised in a low middle-class family and only many years later did I’ve realized just how tough that neighborhood really was. Now I live in an environment where I know only one other Portuguese besides myself (and there are quite a few of us here, in the political capital of Europe) who has never attended a private school. So just like many people are skeptical about celebrating our success in reaching equality, I’m equality skeptical about social mobility.
The evidence I’ve seen of it in my life makes think we’re not quite through that particular “invisible barrier”. In my case, being aware of my background makes me uncomfortable in certain situations, and when it comes to my achievements I’m more prone to think “I got away with it” than “I deserved it”. The difficulty is: if beyond this particular “invisible barrier”, it must be all in my head!
Anywhooo, all this to say I found “The Disreputable History” a fascinating book and Frankie an inspiring character. She was ready to shake the hell out of the status quo and the “old boys”. She did it with style and creativity, but she was also strong enough to face the consequences – being a revolutionary is not all fun and games!
And now just a couple of random thoughts and questions for those who’ve read it (spoilers): was I the only one who immediately thought of the line “No one puts Baby in a corner!” every time her family called her “bunny rabbit”? Will there be a sequel? There seems to be some loose ends to the story, e.g. the explanation of the “sea-horse” conversation that Alpha and Matthew had, her final awareness that she wanted Alpha and decision to wait until a better time. (end spoilers)
So, if you haven’t read it yet and plan to, please let me know when your review is up, I’d really love to know your thoughts. Maybe I’ll even recommend it to my bookclub, although I’ll have a tough time getting them to read YA….
(* I think this reputation was established during a major discussion among our group about “no means no” vs. “women just like to be chased” – oh dear blog friends, I wish you were there! It was just me against five guys, and I admit it, when the discussion got really serious… I cried! I HATE that I did, but it just got to me, and I couldn’t help it…).