Be Frank with Me
Julie Claiborne Johnson
William Morrow, 2016
Hardcover, 287 pages
Alice Whitley, a 24-year-old publishing assistant, is sent to Los Angeles to do whatever it takes to help a literary recluse write her next novel. While M.M. Banning (Mimi) is irritable and ungrateful, Alice’s biggest challenge is Mimi’s son Frank, an intelligent and quirky fourth-grader.
Mimi is cranky, Frank is, well, Frank, and Alice is a naïve do-gooder (but believes she knows everything as we all do at 24). Enter Xander, the older and mysterious piano teacher/handyman/father figure who seems to come and go as he pleases, and you have a cast of characters destined for mayhem.
Alice is there to ensure Mimi finishes the novel. She cooks, cleans, does laundry, and takes care of Frank as best she can. Frank is an amazing child with above-average intelligence and an incredible memory. He has an obsession with classic black and white movies and old Hollywood style. More comfortable dressed like Fred Astaire than in jeans and sneakers, he conjures up an image of a young Monopoly man, in a top hat, tails, and monocle. It is no wonder he hates school. As a social outcast, he is bullied constantly, yet accepts every day with weary resignation. Alice believes that since he is so smart, teachers must love him. But only a few adults at the school like him, making his day that much harder.
I’ll tell you what my mom says teachers don’t love,” said Frank, “Being corrected.”Julia Claiborne Johnson, Be Frank with Me
Frank is the star of the show; he adds both levity and sadness to the story. His unfiltered comments on human behavior make you think, but this is not Frank’s story. Yes, we see Frank’s life through the eyes of Alice but the heart of the story is about Alice. Alice is the only character that undergoes any type of transformation. It is her relationship with Frank that changes her. She is not the same person at the end of the novel. That cannot be said of the other characters.
The reviews of this book were very divided into either love it or hate it, making it an excellent choice for a book club. There is no shortage of discussion points: the long term effects of trauma, Frank (of course), incredible fame at an early age, and Alice’s need for a father figure for starters.
I listened to this book and recommend the audiobook if you have the time.
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