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Be Frank With Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson X
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 304 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2016, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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Power Reviewer
Cloggie Downunder

poignant, thought-provoking and, above all, very funny
“’Frank will be okay, Alice,’ Mr. Vargas said. ‘He’s an odd duck, but brilliant children often are. It may take him a while, but someday he’ll figure out how to live in the world of ordinary mortals.’”

Be Frank With Me is the first novel by American author, Julia Claiborne Johnson. When reclusive author, M.M.Banning (aka Mimi Gillespie) contacts Isaac Vargas, her New York publisher, to ask for help with a new book, he is prepared to bend over backwards to assist. Years ago, her first (and only) book was such a popular bestseller that she went into hiding in California; now, a drastic change in financial circumstances means Mimi needs a publishing success.

Which is why accountancy graduate, Alice Whitely finds herself on Mimi’s Bel Air doorstep, her brief being to do whatever is necessary to allow Mimi to finish her book. When she meets nine-year-old Frank, she is at once fascinated, curious and, quite soon, wondering just what she has let herself in for. Because Frank is different: his encyclopaedic knowledge of the film industry and his movie-character wardrobe ensure that he stands apart, wherever he goes.

Johnson gives her reader a cast of characters who, for all their flaws, are truly appealing: despite his quirks (or perhaps because of them), Frank is instantly likeable; Mimi is prickly and rude, but her obvious love for Frank overrides that in spades; Alice misses the point occasionally, but her heart is in the right place, as is Xander’s, even if reliability is not his forte.

While there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, there are also quite a few to choke the reader up, and Johnson explores some age-old issues: how overwhelming guilt can affect the one who bears it; and why society sets such a high value on conformity. And while the plot involves broken glass, explosions and fire, as well as a bit of detective work, there is a heart-warming happy ending. This is a stunning debut novel: poignant, thought-provoking and, above all, very funny.
Power Reviewer
Diane S

Be Frank with me
Frank is the definitive star of this story and seriously I can't remember the last time I have enjoyed a character more. Frank, is nine, going on forty in some ways, yet emotionally still a child. He is smarter that a ridiculous amount of the population and loves old movies and the dialogues of old movies of which he is expert at reciting. His style of dressing is wonderful, but very strange for a nine year old. Frank, is eccentric, he is different which means he has a hard time with his classmates at school and has no friends, except for the very few adults in his life.

Not going to rehash the plot, so lets just say that when a young twenty something Alice arrives to take charge of Frank and the house, there is a certain amount of adjustment. Delightful and funny experiences ensue. Also poignant and heartbreaking times. We meet Zander, who helps Mimi and Frank out from time to time. He is reliable unless he isn't. He has scars from his past that keep him from committing to anything and anyone fully.

This is a quirky and fun read, light at times but there is much going on beneath the apparent lightness and it is interesting the way the author reveals these things throughout the novel without ever losing her deftness of touch. This novel definitely shows it is not the amount of friends we have that count but who they are. Even loved the ending, sadness reality and a touch of hope, she leaves that up to us to decide. Everyone needs to meet Frank.
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