Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

It seemed rather appropriate to start the twenty twenties with a book set in the nineteen twenties. Caroline Preston's visual delight of a novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, follows one young woman from her genteely poor, rural life to college at Vassar, on to New York and Paris, and finally back to her hometown through this captivating decade.

Presented as a scrapbook, the story of Frankie's young adulthood is laid out in these full color pages. Her doctor father dies young, leaving her mother to try and support Frankie and her younger brothers herself. Frankie is quite smart and is admitted to Vassar college on scholarship but without the additionally needed money to go, she determines to stay home and get a job. Caring for a wealthy old woman, she meets and falls for the woman's nephew, who turns out to be married. With her mother's intervention in this highly inappropriate situation, the old woman gives Frankie the $500 needed to go to college, to learn to write, and to start her adult life. The collected ephemera scattered through the pages tell of college life, expectations for women, attitudes towards other religions and races, and so much more during the Roaring Twenties as Frankie grows up and begins to live her life as a writer and chronicler of her time. She is very much a modern girl.

Because it is a scrapbook, the story is mostly visual with text being sparse and simple.  The reader's understanding of the characterization of Frankie, her beliefs and her intentions, come through her comments about other people with whom she crosses paths and the things she chooses to immortalize in her scrapbook. The story is probably more complete and detailed than an actual scrapbook would be, needing to keep a plot threading through all of the pieces, but even so, the story itself is a bit thin. The reader does get to see Frankie's brushes with famous people and places, her triumphs and her heartbreaks, decisions good and bad, and general life in an intriguing age. The ending is a bit abrupt although it definitely is the end of one chapter of Frankie's life so perhaps ideal as a place to finish a real scrapbook. Overall the idea is whimsical and the execution is well done. It's a cute if slightly insubstantial story.

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