Book Review: Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

be-frank-with-meBe Frank With Me
Julia Claiborne Johnson
William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-241372-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

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.

After reading the publisher’s description of this book, I couldn’t help thinking this could have been about Harper Lee and, truth be known, Mimi is a bit like her. Both had a major publishing success early on and then wrote nothing else (remember, Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was technically not a second book) and both spent years as recluses. I found it kind of fun to imagine Lee’s life being much like Mimi’s.

There, of course, is where the similarities end and Be Frank With Me is much more the story of Frank and an impressionable young girl named Alice. Frank is a pure delight with his quirkiness, his devotion to all things Hollywood, his irrepressible charm and humor and interest in life. Is he on the autism spectrum, possibly showing signs of Asperger’s Syndrome, or is he just very socially awkward? No matter, Frank is a delightful kid and Alice has much to learn from him and from her observations of his relationship with his mother.

Alice herself could be any young professional-in-training thrown into a situation nothing could have prepared her for, especially since she thought she’d be using her editorial skills rather than looking after a child. How she copes with this change in plans and steps up to the plate is only one aspect of a story that is ultimately heartwarming and sweet with large dollops of humor and a bit of sadness, just the kind of thing to while away a few hours of true pleasure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.



Purchase Links:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


About the Author

julia-claiborne-johnsonJulia 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.

Connect with Julia on Facebook and Twitter.

AP Photo by Christa Parravani


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