Frankie is a 15-year-old knockout who graduated so recently from geeky girlhood that’s she’s still dusting its dirt from her clothes. With her newfound popularity comes a dawning ambition for power. She seeks recognition not just for her looks and smart comments (and much less her ability to be adorable and cute when cared for), but for her intelligence and ability to succeed.
She became the girlfriend of idolised Matthew Livingstone after she fell off her bike and he gallantly came to her aid. But she doesn’t want a ‘carer’ boyfriend, she wants him to recognise her for her real talents, and to treat her as an equal with whom he shares everything.
So she’s outrageously jealous when she learns he is in a secret boy’s society, a society which has been around since her father’s school days, and immediately looks for a way to go where no woman has gone before.
I haven’t read a book this full of attitude for a while. It’s so full you can feel it looking down its nose at you as you turn a page, ‘what makes you think you’re good enough for this story?’ But then it opens up again and shows you Frankie’s vulnerable side, like all her trial comeback lines that were squashed before the intelligently winning quip came out to score a laugh. Or the moments of weakness when she wants to give up the power struggle and just seek love.
One can identify with her. Her motives are perhaps even good, which makes it hard to write off the book as complete nonsense. She’s good looking and smart and funny, and she wants to be appreciated. But Matthew only wants her as a needy, comfortable, cute companion. Frankie knows that he respects his friends, he admires their courage and marvels at their brilliance, but he doesn’t respect her in the same way.
And so the power struggle begins: the struggle between Frankie and Matthew’s male friends for his time and attention. Sometimes she does it through her girl power, tantalising kisses on the cheek contradicted with hard-to-get reserve. Other times it’s through her witty comments and carefully unselfconscious ways showing off. But she really thinks she’s won when she forges emails from the club’s leader and secretly directs their pranks. And since power without recognition is useless to her, her secret outs with bursting impatience. And what do they think? Do they applaud her courage and cleverness? No. They despise her, Matthew especially, for the lie she’s been living.
So where did she go wrong? The second-last paragraph of the book gives us some insight:
“It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people.
She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be. That Bunny Rabbit is dead.”
But is this the true path to happiness? Perhaps loneliness is not always better than sharing life with someone who doesn’t fully understand you. And perhaps proving yourself in a power struggle isn’t the only way to help others understand you better. And sometimes it can be a great thing to follow, if you freely choose to do so. And it can be a childish thing to always want to lead, as though having a line of followers is the only proof of your worth.
Yes, it is usually better to speak up than stay silent, but not when you only speak up in order to be the centre of attention and have others bow down before you. It is also better to open doors than to shut them on people, but are you opening them for yourself alone or also for those around you?
Why should we assume that to be simple and sweet is to be stupid and weak? Why must kindness only be used if it gains you more power, why can’t it help to simply make life more pleasant for others? Why must you never follow what people say to you, when heeding advice certainly does not always make you weak?
It is true that seeking to appear cute and adorable is rather useless, but what’s wrong with developing real sensitivity of character, of trying to be a good friend? If this story is anything to go by, power doesn’t lead to happiness, but to bitter triumph. Yet the book seems to try to harden you to its bitterness, to deaden your sensitivity, to make you believe that power is worthwhile in spite of the loneliness that surrounds it. I couldn’t agree less.