Be Frank With Me

Julia Claiborne Johnson
A sparkling talent makes her fiction debut with this infectious novel that combines the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. 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. Full of heart and countless “only-in-Hollywood” moments, Be Frank with Me is a captivating and unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2021-09-08

I loved everything about this book. Especially Frank. It is the kind of book that makes you sad to finish it, because you love the characters so much.

Reviewed: 2019-04-24

Frank Banning is a nine-year-old aficionado of 1940s musicals with an eccentric writer mother.  When Alice comes to stay and keep an eye on Mimi whole she writes her new book, Frank is apprehensive of this stranger in his home.  But with time, patience, and trust, the two become fast friends.

While it is never expressly discussed in the book, it’s clear to me that Frank Banning is somewhere on the autism scale.  He’s a sweet child and extraordinarily smart, spouting facts at every turn and requiring reminders for certain social queues.  His mother is ill-equipped to help him survive in the harsh world, and school is torture for him.  Instead of going through traditional means for such a gifted child, Mimi squirrels him away and spends her life sheltering him and trying to make him happy.  Other than his mother, the handyman Xander is the only person who young Frank can rely on.

In comes Alice.  When Alice joins the Banning family, she has to learn the rules:  don’t touch Frank’s things, and don’t touch Frank.  As long as she follows the rules, there shouldn’t be disaster.

So while I had some fundamental issues with how the adults took care of Frank… Frank himself melted my heart.  He is in many ways a young Sheldon Cooper, but far more endearing.  In his top hats and tailcoats, he’s simply sensational.

I really don’t have a lot to say about Be Frank With Me. It was very much a character book, so if you don’t love the characters going in, you probably won’t enjoy the novel.  I loved the characters – all of them, even grumpy, frantic Mimi – so it worked out very well for me.  Despite the plot not really going anywhere – it’s more a “slice of life” thing – the pacing was good and I was never bored.

For those who enjoyed Where’d You Go Bernadette or The Rosie Project, I think Be Frank with Me is a good choice.  It’s a great contemporary with great characters, perfect for a vacation read or to break a slump.

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