Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Digital Audiobook narrated by Tavia Gilbert
Published by William Morrow on February 2, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Humor
Length: 287 pages or 8 hours, 37 minutes
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Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s writing her first book in decades and to ensure timely completion her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. 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 Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders.
As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his 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 heartwarming story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.
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.
Do you enjoy slice of life stories? I never thought I would, but somehow, I always fall in love with the characters. If you have some good suggestions, shout ’em out in the comments!