Summary and book reviews of Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson

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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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Prologue
February 2010

Because the station wagon blew up in the fire, Frank and I took the bus to the hospital. When I told him we'd get there in less than half the time in a taxi, Frank said, "I only ride in taxis with my mother. You are not my mother, Alice."

This was a fact. Once the kid latched onto a fact there was no point in trying to talk him around to practicalities. "Fine," I said. "We'll take the bus."

We hadn't been on the bus very long when Frank said, "People are staring at me."

So? You're fun to look at." This was also a fact. Frank was pretty in the angelic way ten- year- old boys are sometimes: skin all pink and white and smooth, outsized dark eyes with ridiculously long lashes, freckles spilled across his nose. He had red hair, but not the crazy, curly orange kind that gets kids cast in television commercials when they're four and ostracized on the playground when they've grown to a pasty, lumpy eleven. Frank's was the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Be Frank With Me is a generally decent first novel, if only because Frank is so remarkable. It’s worth being there with him, marveling at what he is, and looking forward to what happens next.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Full Review (517 words).

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Media Reviews

Slate

Delightful. You will laugh out loud.

The Huffington Post

Hilarious, poignant and full of unexpected gems, Be Frank With Me illuminates the strange ways literature can parallel life, and introduces readers to one of the most charming, lovable and maddening children in fiction.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Frank Banning may be the most endearing scene-stealer you’ll ever meet in the pages of a book...Johnson proves it’s possible to write a comic novel that, at times, is heartbreaking.

The New York Times Book Review

A lot of fun to be had along the way. Sit back…and enjoy the show.

Booklist

Witty dialogue, irresistible characters, and a touch of mystery make this sweet debut about a quirky Hollywood family an enjoyable page-turner.

Kirkus Reviews

The curious incident of where'd you go, Salinger: clever, sweet, but a bit derivative.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Johnson's magnificently poignant, funny, and wholly original debut goes beyond page-turner status. Readers will race to the next sentence. And the next. Her charming, flawed, quietly courageous characters, each wonderfully different, demand a second reading while we impatiently await the author's second work.

Author Blurb Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Members
Julia Claiborne Johnson has struck gold in creating Frank Banning -- a one-of-a-kind exasperating, witty and endearing nine-year-old genius who functions as the beating heart of this marvelous book.

Author Blurb Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times-bestselling author of The Opposite of Everyone
Witty, but never cutesy. Deeply felt, but never sentimental. Peopled with deeply flawed, fully realized characters I cared about... I loved every minute I spent in Julia Claiborne Johnson's glass house with her cast of dedicated stone-throwers. This one is special - don't miss it.

Author Blurb John Searles, nationally-bestselling author of Help for the Haunted
"There's so much to love about this novel: the hilarious one-liners, the unforgettable characters, the unexpected moments of tenderness and all the funny, sad, poignant twists and turns this story takes. I lost myself in these pages and you will too.

Author Blurb Laura Nicole Diamond, author of Shelter Us: a novel
Julia Claiborne Johnson has written an effervescent gem of a novel, expertly balancing on a literary tightrope between lighthearted and heartbreaking.

Author Blurb Julia Sweeney, author, actress, comedienne
Beautifully written, brimming with insight, mystery, and benevolent wit, Julia Johnson had me gripped from the first chapter to the final page.

Author Blurb Dave Foley, comedian and technically, an actor
Be Frank with Me is complex, nuanced, detailed and profound. In other words, funny, in the best, most resonant way. Read it with both eyes because it will delight both the thinky and the feely parts of your brain.

Author Blurb Marisa de los Santos, New York Times-bestselling author of Love Walked In and The Precious One
What a charmer this book is! From the very first page, I fell hard for Frank, an adorable oddball with an amazing brain, a wardrobe to die for, and a lonely fragility that pierced my heart again and again.

Reader Reviews

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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Hollywood's Margaret Herrick Library

If you live in or near Los Angeles, you're guaranteed to have at least one Hollywood experience, be it a TV show taping, a star sighting, tickets to a premiere, or some crazy confluence of circumstances that gives you something you never expected.

Up until late summer 2012, I lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, 30 minutes north of Los Angeles. In that time, I went to tapings of Jeopardy!, an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and a screening of a new Paul Reiser sitcom that never made it to TV; met the phenomenal Michael Weatherly and Sasha Alexander when NCIS was filming part of an episode at College of the Canyons in Valencia during its second season; and went to the 20th Century Fox lot one evening with an independent filmmaker ...

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