BOOK TOUR REVIEW: Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Be Frank with Me
by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.
When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.
As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank’s father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.
4 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Alice is 24 years old, working in the book publishing world, and is sent to be an assistant of sorts to the famous-for-one-novel Mimi Banning. When she meets Mimi’s 9 year old son Frank though, she suddenly has to become so much more. Frank lives in his own unique world to say the least. Adults either cannot deal with him or find him endearing, and children his own age just find him plain weird.
Mimi has been in hiding since the massive fame she gained with her first and only novel. Having Frank has changed her, but not necessarily for the better. She now is on a tight deadline to come out with another bestseller, and Alice must keep her household and child under her sights while Mimi tries to do just that.
I quite enjoyed this look into the lives of some truly intriguing characters. I instantly fell in love with Frank, even though many may find him annoying or struggle to understand him. It’s never stated, but seems obvious to me, that Frank falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. His mother, delicate as she is, loves him but does not always have the energy or attitude necessary to keep up with him.
I loved the bond that Alice and Frank formed. It’s cliche to say they both helped each other learn a lot, but it’s true. Frank needed Alice to guide him socially and in some other ways, and Alice learned that things are not always so cut and dried and perhaps can be looked at from another angle by watching Frank.
One thing I didn’t understand nor was it even touched on was the reason why Mimi was so rude. Alice was there to help her, after all. Maybe Mimi resented needing the help; maybe she felt she was being spied on and didn’t like it; maybe she became jealous of the attention Alice was getting from Frank. These are all plausible, albeit facetious reasons that could explain Mimi’s perpetual nastiness towards Alice, but it felt like something deeper was at play.
I don’t know if the book could be described as hilarious or heartwarming, but I’m glad I read it, if only because I was introduced to young Frank. He’s a character that will stay with me for some time and make me think of him often. I loved the author’s writing style, though I didn’t particularly like the flow of the individual chapters.
Give this novel a read if you love characters with a lot of heart and honesty, or if you’re interested in reading a story that is true to life about a child on the autism spectrum.
About the Author
Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children.