Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Books, They Keep-a Battling

So now this Tournament of Books, wherein Frankie lost, has a zombie round, where Frankie lost again.

As you know, since I was busy reading other things, I did not read any of the other ToB books. I've only skimmed the non-Frankie entries. If I had read the other books, I'm sure it would be more interesting and I'd be more invested in what is said, etc.

For you other non-ToB followers.

There is one judge for the book versus book; here, in the zombie round, it was Rosecrans Baldwin. Frankie lost. Baldwin's ultimate conclusion: "Landau-Banks, on the other hand, lacks drama. It’s a book full of tension, but few surprises. Nothing seems to matter very much to the characters, and the story comes out flat. Judging by the Rooster poll, I’m sure there are thousands of fans who disagree with me, but I couldn’t find much to interest me in Landau-Banks and it was a chore to finish."

Huh. Yes, Frankie figuring out issues of patriarchy, love, lust, power, identity, manipulation, those things really don't matter much to the characters, did they? It's not like Frankie was permanently scarred or anything. Once again, I wish I had Jennifer Weiner to discuss this with.

Next, the official commentary by Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner. Warner supports and likes Frankie; but I am curious about one thing. Warner writes, "E. Lockhart makes Frankie’s foundational dilemma clear very early on in the book, on page seven no less, “She had never been in love.”" Again, later, Warner is clear that this is a book about teen love: "As Doerr notes in a world of “global violence” and “child slavery,” the romantic tribulations of a intelligent, financially secure, recently-blossomed teenage girl seem truly trivial."

People read books. They have their own individual reactions; and yes, we do want to say to someone "you read it wrong," but people's individual reading experiences are their own, and valid. I am not saying Warner read it wrong; but I am curious as to why Warner read it that way.

Frankie is about love? And not just love, "romantic tribulations"? In the comments to this commentary, Meghan points out an aspect of Frankie that isn't about love at all: "[The book] addresses the seemingly-small, but daily, ways in which women are expected to minimize their own strengths in order to please men." Other comments also note that Frankie is about more than her emotions.

I asked at Twitter what readers thought Frankie was about; love wasn't among the responses. Instead I got: "desire, identity, and compromise"; "patriarchy"; "power"; "power"; "belonging"; "I'm not even sure Frankie's about "love" at all--but then I'm 41 & not 14. 14 might say it's love. 41 has diff viewpoint!". If you responded via twitter and I missed you, I'm sorry!

Here's the thing. Frankie loses or doesn't lose in the ToB. It really doesn't matter. It's a fun exercise for people who love books and who love talking about books and isn't that great? I'm looking forward to SLJ's Battle of the Books not because it'll be kids or YA books, but because chances are they are books I have read. Which will make it more interesting to me.

What does matter is how Frankie is being read, even by those who are fans, and I wonder. Personally, (and this, as is everything on this blog, has nothing to do with the Printz committee and is all me me me), I saw Frankie as being about Power, with the love story being the device to explore issues such as gender roles, manipulation, feminism, and belonging, but if I had to use one word it would be Power. And the "every day" love story/ school story is used because it is familiar to readers; and keeps the story from being didactic. The lessons Frankie learns about Power are such that, even tho they are learned (as most teenage lessons are) in the relative comfort of school and friends, they will be ones that shape who and what she becomes.

I wonder about Warner's reading of Frankie -- and, from the judging and other comments, he is not alone. His reading is right to him; I am not saying it is wrong. But I cannot help but wonder... is Frankie read this way because it is a YA book? A book about a girl? A book written by a woman? Why do the adult readers who I speak with, who are mostly female, yes, see something different in Frankie than romance?

To discuss amongst yourself:

Frankie is about railing against the status quo, including the definitions that exist to keep people out. "Oh, Frankie, you cannot be in the Bassets because you are a girl!" By the definition of what is a Basset, you do not fit. To what extent, if any, do the definitions at the Tournament of Books about what is and is not "literary excellence" affect how Frankie fared?

What is Frankie about? And if it is read as just a love story, or just a story about a privileged girl, how does that affect the reading and conclusions made about it?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


tanita✿davis said...

Wow, just romance!?
Frankie was about that least of all... I mean, she figured out romance, enough so that she could get to it. The OTHER stuff was what was hard.

Wow. Way to only read the words and not actually take in the meaning, people.

Liz B said...

I've both overread books and underread books, in terms of taking away meaning, so I don't want to beat up the person who sees just romance. And arguably, "just romance" should still be enough to stand tall in a battle of literary excellence.

But I am curious as to why this was read as just romance by some, and if it's a YA issue or a gender issue.

I'm also surprised that the judge used being surprised as a criteria for literary excellence. Isn't surprise more about the reader than the author? It's one of the reasons I reread during Printz; to remove the "me surprised" element of the reading and to concentrate on the book itself.

Anonymous said...

What's funny is that to me it seemed more of an anti-romance (not in that it was anti-romance as a philosophy, more as a STYLE)! I mean the relationship she's officially in is certainly not the best one, and the potential flirtation there, which would make for a much more equal match and also probably has resulting in much shipping among the fan base, even THAT I don't see as being all that True Lovey and whatnot. Isn't it like a hallmark of a story defined as a romance for two lovers to live happily ever after together at the end? Unless it's a tragedy, which means somebody probably should have died?

As for what it IS about, I guess my vote would go with Belonging... but I'm leaning even more to it just being about the delight of reading such convoluted cleverness.

Liz B said...

rockin, in my never to be humble opinion, if this was a romance there would have been a HEA (happy ever after) with Alpha.

Roger Sutton said...

We watched The Duchess last night, Keira Knightley as the Duchess of Devonshire, and it occurs to me that Frankie is a more successful exponent of that movie's attempt to have it both ways: romance and social criticism. Frankie reminded me a lot of Edith Wharton.

Tow Books said...

Hey, John Warner hear again.

I can't seem to talk about this book without managing to stick my foot in it. And this is for a book I really enjoyed!

So, I've come to do three things, defend myself, defend the idea of writing about love, and defend the notion that, at it's core, Frankie is, at its core, about love.

1. Defending myself.

First, I never said the book is "just romance." That quote from my comment saying, "As Doerr notes in a world of “global violence” and “child slavery,” the romantic tribulations of a intelligent, financially secure, recently-blossomed teenage girl seem truly trivial." while perhaps not 100% clear is, in context, (particularly when paired with the following and preceding paragraphs, a characterization of first round judge Anthony Doerr's thoughts, not my own. They are a rhetorical device meant to add contrast to my own arguments.

I do say the book is about love. Doerr (in my view, he may object to that characterization) says it's about "romantic tribulations."

Love and romance are, in my opinion, two distinct subjects. (See 2. below.)

I also never say the book is about "teen love." I say it's about "first love." I also say that "first love" is about the most important thing a person can experience.

2. A defense of books being about love.

In my view, there's no greater or more important subject. To say that a book is about love is to tackle the biggest and most difficult aspect of our humanity there is. When I say love I don't mean "romance" and I don't mean "relationships" and I don't mean "feelings," I mean the very element that defines us as human.

Love, in all its complications is the closest thing to grace that people are capable of achieving. Loving and being loved are likely to be the most significant things we will ever experience.

I think this sentence from Elizabeth Burns' post is telling, and unfairly reductive to the notion of a book being about love, "Other comments [from ToB readers] also note that Frankie is about more than her emotions."

This presupposes that when someone says the subject is love, we're talking about just "emotions."

There's no "just" about love.

3. On this book being about love.

First, even while recognizing and acknowledging that everyone is going to take something different from any given book, I still think it's clear that the thing at the center of this book, the "foundational element" if you will, is love. More specifically I noted that I thought Frankie is about the "life-changing aspect of that first love and its effect on our identity, our selves."

As people have noted, there's also many other things at work in the book in order to make for a complicated and multi-faceted conflict, but for me, all of those things are moons orbiting the planet love. The book is "about" many things, but there's only one thing at the center (IMHO.)

For example, power and the patriarchy and fighting the status quo. For sure the book is a nuanced exploration of these things and how Frankie struggles with them, but rather than being at the center of the book or the character, they are elements that complicate the fact that Frankie had "never been in love." If you try to put any one of those things at the center of the book, I think you get something that's preachy and schematic, something that can be easily grasped. I think the book is more complex than that.

If you put "power" at the center of the book, I don't think it works. Power isn't part of our humanity. It's something we can have, or be subject to, but it isn't in our souls. It is an external element at work on the character, not an internal one to the character. Power effects her, but it's what's going on inside of Frankie that's at the center.

Frankie is struggling over self-image and identity, but the reason she is struggling is because of the desire, the need, for love. (A desire and need she shares with every other sentient creature on the planet.)

This then, for me, is what made the book special. It takes something that is simultaneously fundamental and complicated and illuminates it in fresh ways while also offering comment on elements of contemporary society. Plus, it's very very funny.

Liz B said...

why i love the internets: we can have these conversations

why i hate the internets: i wish they were happening in real life, where it's easier to have tone and real back and forth etc.

John, thanks for being such a good sport and also for your argument about love. (For the record one of the Printz criteria is "we want a book that readers will talk about". I think we're showing that is true for Frankie.)

Off to rest my eyes after way too much time on the Internets.

Denise said...

OMG a book about love? Warner has it wrong, possibly because he's never been a teen girl or a woman.

In his comments about "power" are a good indication of why Frankie doesn't read to him the way it reads to every woman and girl I've talked to who has read it.

"Never been in love", bah - that's not it at all.

Gwenda said...

It does seem like the most disturbing thing about both judges' readings is that they seem completely unaware that their tin-eared reactions to the book are actually further proof of what it's about.

I'm blanking on exactly who said this, but I think it was actually Asimov (will look up later) -- anyway, whoever it was said this thing I always think of when I see reactions like this, paraphrasing, "Art must be approached with love." And, if not love, then at least without an axe to grind. There was no room left in either judge's reading for the book itself. It became all about them, and how they couldn't identify with a girl's necessarily trifling concerns. Disturbing.

MotherReader said...

I just saw the SLJ Battle of the Books line-up and hate the pairing of Frankie with We are the Ship. What kind of discussion is that?

Our DC Kid Lit Book Club talked about Nelson's book and we were pretty iffy on the writing which we found inconsistant in tone and style. The writing of Lockhart's book, in contrast, is super sharp.

(Oh, I also don't think Frankie is about love, but it looks like the rest of you have that discussion covered pretty well.)

Kaethe said...

Yeah, Power was my first answer to "What is Frankie about?" We're social animals and social animals are highly attuned to hierarchy. The norm is that for guys power is translated as leadership and for gals it is translated as (sexual) popularity.

Gee, there's a girl Holden's crushing on in Catcher in the Rye. Has anyone ever dismissed that as being about "first love"?

On a related note, can anyone think of a story for middle grade readers in which a girl refuses to be dismissed?

Anonymous said...

Romance is one of the last things I would say this book is about. Sure it's about a girl dating, but that's more a means to an end than anything else. Her dating simply brought her to the point where she started her mission for power.

The book could have played out very similarly if she had found out that a male friend was involved in something that she as a girl was not permitted to take part in. Same idea sans the romance or love.

Anonymous said...

John Warner (in his argument about love) said that what Frankie is really after is finding and needing love, and that is at the center of the book.
But Frankie already has love: her family loves her (if they don't understand her) her boyfriend very well might love her, she has friends who care about her. Frankie is loved; I think she's more concerned about finding acceptance, and being fully appreciated for everything that she is capable of. She's tired of being overlooked, and in fact she's risking some of the love that her family and her boyfriend have given her by doing the things that she does.
And in the end of the story, she doesn't end up with love. Her boyfriend despises her, her family fears her, her best friend refuses to think about who Frankie really is.
Yes, this book is very much about first love, but more so it's about knowing your full potential.