The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston.
This is a novel told as a scrapbook, telling the story of Frankie Pratt in her own words. We follow her life for eight years, starting with her graduation from high school in 1920. Her Corona-typed captions narrate pages filled with vintage pictures, postcards, and some photos. Frankie really wants to be a writer, but is helping to support her widowed mother by working as a caretaker for an elderly neighbor. That neighbor’s son, more than a decade older than Frankie, is the shaky but handsome World War I veteran Jamie Pingee, towards on whom Frankie develops a crush. Soon, however, she’s sent to Vassar on scholarship. There she rooms with rich girl Allegra Wolf, and becomes her protégé, also befriending Allegra’s brother Oliver. As well as wanting to be a writer, Frankie is an avid reader, and one realizes afresh just how much was going on in the 20s as Frankie discusses the hot new writers of the day – so many of them still famous today. There’s even a life-changing conversation with the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (Vassar 1917), whom Frankie meets through her work as the editor of Vassar’s literary magazine. Following graduation, Frankie spends two years in Greenwich Village and two in Paris, always trying to further her career. She’s in Paris when the Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in the world and witnesses Lindbergh’s landing there before she must return home to care for her mother. All through the book, Frankie shares her trials at romance, her various friendships and fallings-out with girlfriends, and notes on the fashions and momentous events happening around her.
This barebones plot outline doesn’t do much to convey how very well this all works together. This is a graphic novel really, though it doesn’t seem to have been sold as one. Usually, though, a graphic novel has an artist or team of artists who can work to provide a unified feel for the artwork, and show the characters and their surroundings to fill in for the physical descriptions you’d find in a prose novel. This book didn’t have that option. The words are few, and the story is told through vintage ephemera – meaning there’s some sense of style there just in the time period it was put out, but that Preston had an editor’s control rather than an artist’s. The author must have spent hundreds of hours combing through vintage pictures and postcards looking for just the right ones to tell the story, and the efforts paid off. Despite very limited text and the lack of control over the pictures, Frankie and her companions come through loud and clear as real people. The presentation makes this a good choice for people who wouldn’t normally go for graphic novels, as there’s neither the cartoon-like feeling of traditional comic artwork nor the difficulty of decoding traditional panels for those new to it. Fans of historical women’s fiction and/or paper crafts will fall in love.