The Basic Eight was Daniel Handler's first novel, that he funded with his Owin Fellowship prize money in 1998.
Flannery Culp is a senior at Roewer High School in San Fransisco. Over the course of the year, Flan records the events of her life in a diary - which, after some heavy editing by Flannery herself, some years after the fact, becomes the narrative. She and her seven close friends refer to themselves as "The Basic Eight"; they are an exclusive clique, hosting the Grand Opera Breakfast Club, and regular dinner and garden parties, as they cope with the stresses of their final year of high school. The plot begins in letters written by Flannery to her love interest, Adam, while on summer vacation, and reaches a dark conclusion in which lives of the members of the Basic Eight are turned upside down by revealed secrets, horrifying self-discoveries, and murder. The Basic Eight consists of: Flannery Culp, the protagonist; Kate Gordon, the Queen Bee; Lily Chandly, a classical musician; Douglas Wilde, Flan's ex-boyfriend; V__, whose rich parents have had her name expunged from the story; Jennifer Rose Milton, a name so beautiful that Flan must always write it out in full; Gabriel Gallon, the kindest boy in the world; Natasha Hyatt, Flan's exuberant and beautiful best friend.
In Handler's third novel, Adverbs, Kate is mentioned as the girlfriend to a minor character, Garth, in the chapter "Soundly". In The Basic Eight, Kate frequently gives relationship advice from her only, two-week relationship with Garth, much to Flannery's annoyance.
Daniel Handler is a graduate of Lowell High School in San Fransisco, and The Basic Eight is supposedly loosely based on his high school experience. Many of the teachers portrayed in the book are thought to be based on (and have very similar names to) Lowell faculty members from Handler's high school years. Some of these teachers continue to work at Lowell. In addition, many of the locations used in the book, such as Lake Merced, are in their unedited forms and actually exist near Lowell High School.