Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Separated Sisters: Frankie Landau-Banks and Kiki Strike

One is a short, skinny girl with white hair. The other is a newly-minted willowy beauty. Yet these two girls have much in common. Both offer us a look at just what girls can achieve--results that greatly exceed society's expectations. Both Kiki Strike and Frankie Landau-Banks, from the eponymous books by Kirsten Miller and E. Lockhart, are much more than meets the eye.

Kiki Strike is described as an elf or a leprechaun. Her small stature packs quite a punch, as several evil-doers find out the hard way. Yet it is Kiki's mind that is the greatest weapon. Calculating, insightful, and cunning, Kiki forms the group of girl adventurers known as the Irregulars, leading them on an exploration of a shadow city beneath Manhattan. But when an accident injures one of the Irregulars, Kiki disappears in the aftermath. Two years later, she returns, leading the Irregulars on another mission that will reveal Kiki's secret past.

Frankie Landau-Banks was unnoticeable; known as Bunny Rabbit to her family, she didn't attract attention. Then she became pretty over the course of one summer and saw how beauty can draw the eye. Either way, however, she discovered that a girl doesn't have much power. And for a smart, observant, thoughtful girl like Frankie, this was a hard realization to make. When she finds out that her boyfriend is the member of a secret male-only society at their boarding school, she decides to infiltrate it. Frankie manages to direct the actions of the group, keeping her true identity a secret. Yet when a prank backfires, Frankie finds out what it's like to have everyone know who you are.

Each of these books explore girls as they enter their teen years and start discovering the power they hold. Part of this power is due to their looks, as they begin to become women. But such power is fleeting, and is too easily confused with popularity. True power is that which comes from the strength of your intelligence. Both Kiki and Frankie have minds that let them strategize and plan, solve problems and direct others. Yet the truly amazing thing is that they choose to hide their abilities, preserving the belief in sweet quiet girls. After all, no one expects a girl to be up to any trouble. Both Frankie and Kiki realize this and exploit this fact fully.

Why do these two young women do this, when they could be capable of so much more? It's not just the dangers each character faces in the course of her story that causes her to work in secret. In fact, it's the very fact that the deck is stacked against them that makes them appear to live up to the stereotype. Society's view of young females becomes rather like the chicken-or-the-egg problem: Kiki and Frankie rebel against being consigned to silent, invisible girlhood, yet that ability to be unnoticed leads them to be even more successful. And neither of these girls are about to forgo such an advantage.

For Frankie, she begins to use her brain, knowing that she's outsmarting a group of boys who are expected to become the male elite in this country. Kiki goes even further: to achieve her goal, she finds other girls who have great but untapped strength, and teaches them how to wield this power while appearing to be ordinary young women.

As the news tells us, being taken advantage of is a common problem for females of any age. Women seem to be held to different standards, whether they're managing companies, performing research, or running for political office. It's hard for any female to figure out what is the right course for her. Yet through books, girls and women can discover different ways to use their power. And while we might not be a martial arts master like Kiki or be a brainy beauty like Frankie, these two characters offer a powerful repudiation of the expectation that girls shouldn't cause trouble, act too smart, or contradict those who know better. Because who knows better how to make your way through life than you?

Crossposted to Librarian by Day.


Libby said...

I loved Frankie; this makes me want to read about Kiki as well. Thanks!

tanita✿davis said...

"these two characters offer a powerful repudiation of the expectation that girls shouldn't cause trouble, act too smart, or contradict those who know better."

Woot! I adored Kiki, and reading about Frankie was just like discovering her older, wordier sister. I *really* hope that E. Lockhart isn't through with this character.

Stasia D said...

Savvy connection, Liz! I adore both of these reads and recommend them heavily to our students.

Liz B said...

I would love to claim credit for being savvy, but the credit is to Tea Cozy's latest blogger, Melissa Rabey.

Melissa Rabey said...

I'm so pleased people are enjoying my link of Kiki Strike and Frankie Landau-Banks!

Libby: I really love Kiki Strike. I think it's a great book, and a perfect choice for girls who have read the Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter and want something similar. It's not spies, but plenty of action-adventure and girl power.

TedMack: That's such a great comparison! And since we've been lucky enough to get a Kiki sequel, I hope, like you, that we'll see Frankie again, too.

Anonymous said...

I just finished The Disreputable History last week and have already checked out Kiki Strike from the library. I will have to come back to read this post in full when I'm done!

Anonymous said...

Great post.

In the book, Packaging Girlhood, Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown write, "If you want to raise a girl who loves adventure, doesn't measure herself and others by looks, and feels free to pursue a myriad of interests and hobbies, you should probably point them to fantasy and science fiction." (172)

I'm so glad that Frankie and Kiki and some other books are out there that at least partially proves that quote wrong. Thank you for pointing it out.

-Carrie Jones (my livejournal won't let me do an open identity. Sorry.)

rathacat said...

What is that quote? "Obedient women never make history" ?

Good review linking the two books.

Carlie Webber said...

Carrie, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who noticed that quote from Packaging Girlhood! When I read that statement, I thought, "What about Claudia Kincaid, or Shelia Tubman, or Harriet Welsch, or Ramona Quimby?" The whole chapter on children's lit in that book gave me the impression that the authors were fairly ignorant of the wide scope of children's and YA lit.

I never read science fiction or fantasy as a kid (and I still don't), but I like to think I grew up okay.

Beth Kephart said...

I have adventured. I have many hobbies. I wouldn't fare well if I measured me by my looks. I have dared to dare (at least a little bit). I have read widely, but I have not read fantasy.

Any truly wonderful book can fortify us for the journey ahead.