“The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” by E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart is known for her feminist writing, and Frankie does not disappoint as a heroine who challenges conventions on how women are expected to behave. How? Frankie takes on the old boys club in her boarding school, directing a male secret society thorough a series of pranks with a political agenda. Only problem: the boys don’t know that she is the mastermind.

The dialogue between Frankie and her boyfriend Matthew is excellent. In fact, all dialogue in this book really shines. It’s like you really hear the characters speaking in the room with you.

I grew up reading PG Wodehouse – slightly stained, yellowed copies that smelled of vanilla and glue – purchased from secondhand bookstores. My favourite was “Leave it to Psmith” where a particular fire alarm prank at a boarding school had me in stitches every time I read it.

I’m not sure how popular PG Wodehouse is with the younger crowd. It certainly wasn’t popular when I was reading it. But even if you don’t get the PG Wodehouse illusions and english boys boarding school traditions, it is not necessary to enjoy “The Disreputable History…” In fact, I was not in stitches with the “The Disreputable History…” as it is more of a social commentary.

The novel asks elite education systems if they include all religions, all cultural practices and women as well as men. It asks why we’re still holding onto a male dominated view of education? Why women can’t be devious, intelligent prankers, as well as men?

And honestly, I’m not sure exactly how important this fight is since the setting, again, was in an elite boarding school. Frankie knows that her future opportunities are pretty much guaranteed whether she runs the secret society or not. And yet… even though Frankie is incredibly privileged, “The Disreputable History…” suggests that there are still inequalities even among society’s upper crust. Will Frankie make it to the top of the world? Or will some men’s club keep her out?

Does this matter? Or is this extreme privilege in society a problem onto itself?

 

“Absolutely Almost” by Lisa Graff

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This book hit me in the gut. The main character Augie, is completely average. In fact, most of the time he is below average.

The book explains his struggles relating to his parents’ high expectations. There are positive influences such as a babysitter, and a math teacher, who accept him for who he is without trying to push him to be someone else.

Lisa Graff really gets into Augie’s head, and helps the reader feel for his situation. You understand his perspective, and how aware he is that he isn’t living up to his parents’ hopes and dreams.

As a reader, I hoped that Augie would find out that he had some awesome talent, like guitar playing, or art, or robot-building. But this never happens. Instead, Graff lets Augie stay as he is… average.

As such, the reader is presented with a challenge. Can they accept Augie as he is?

Often, part of the charm of reading a book is relating to a super cool main character, who can totally take on the impossible and be the chosen one. You know. Luke use the force.

This book challenges that concept. Augie as a character demonstrated to me that everyone deserves kindness and that everyone is born with the same amount of worth as everyone else.

Beautiful message.

 

“The Boy’s Manual to being a Proper Jew” by Eli Glasman

This book deals with religion and sexuality in a painfully honest, nothing held back kind of way. Even though the narrative follows Yossi, gay Jewish boy living in Melbourne, and how he reconciles the restrictiveness of his religion with accepting his sexuality, this book is far from regional Australian fiction. “The Boy’s Manual…” leads to universal questions:

Why does religion often spread hate instead of love?

Why is God so concerned with who you love instead of what kind of person you are and how you treat other people? Homosexuality seems a rather pale sin in comparison with discrimination and exclusion.

Why are religious institutions so set on shaming people for genetic traits they cannot control?

How does practicing the religion in question deviate from the relevant religious texts?

If you deviate from your culture, will you still be supported by your friends and family? What is the cost of being yourself? Do the benefits outweigh these costs?

Needless to say, this book really made me think. In a good way.

As someone who attended a big gay United Church as a teenager, I have seen many facets to religion. I have seen a gay minister ordained and a lesbian couple have their son baptized. However, I also have seen a university Christian group refuse to answer publicly their stance on homosexuality. They insisted that the student contact them privately – no doubt because they weren’t accepting.

It’s funny, because religion creates a sort of paradox. By being part of a religion you are necessarily separating yourself from others, even if the goal of the religion is to treat others well. Can an religious institution ever be fully inclusive and still be classified as practicing that religion?

I’m not sure. But I know you don’t have to be Jewish to ask these questions.