Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a graphic novel--but not in the comic book/manga sense. Rather, it is constructed as a scrapbook kept by a recent high school graduate. Each full-color page is decorated with memorabilia, clippings, letters, and notes from Frankie Pratt, a small town New Hampshire girl with dreams of becoming a writer. The scrapbook covers eight years in Frankie's life, in which she goes to Vassar, gets a job writing at True Story, works as an editor at a literary magazine in Paris, and returns to New Hampshire to care for her mother. Despite being a feminist (her hair is bobbed after all), Frankie has a penchant for falling in love with the wrong man and then running away. Yes the plot is straight from the chick-lit supply of story lines--with a dash of history and social commentary.

But this book is not about the thin plot--it's about the way Preston tells the story and develops Frankie's character through the scrapbook technique. While it takes little time to "read" this book, you could spend hours looking closely at the memorabilia. For example, on the first page after Frankie enrolls at Vassar are pictures of the campus overlaid with the rules at Vassar, definitions of Vassar slang, a Vassar joke, and a Vassar song; the facing page shows her class schedule, three pictures of stylish girls cut from magazines, and Frankie's assessment of the "pecking order of freshman girls" (public school scholarship students like her are the lowest level). When, in her New York phase, the magazine her friend Oliver is working for publishes its first issue, there are clips from that first New Yorker, as well as a list of reasons Frankie finds the issue a bore (starting with "British fop on cover"). From her time in Paris, there is a page of wine labels, partially visible under a list of the topics expats talk about when drinking in bars.

I don't think the scrapbook format will become as ubiquitous as the comic book style of graphic novel; nonetheless, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is an entertainment worth checking out.

Favorite passage:

Commenting on her love of This Side of Paradise: I take it as a zoological study of how rich college boys think and talk. (And more useful than my zoology text, which I am 2 chapters behind in already!)

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