Sunday, February 14, 2016

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

This was a delightfully funny, tender, and dare I say sweet novel that I was sad to finish.  When I read a book that completely engulfs me, I have a hard time letting it go.  That's how I feel about this book, and I can tell you that this novel has one of the most memorable characters I have met in all my reading years.   

Alice works for Isaac Vargas at a publishing company in New York City.  Mr. Vargas' star client, M. M. Banning, hasn't written a word since her blockbuster bestseller in the late 1970's.  Now it's 2009, and M.M. Banning (Mimi) has lost all her money to a bad ponzi scheme, and has to write again in order to support her son and herself.  Alice is sent to California to stay with Mimi and her son Frank and keep distractions away from Mimi so she can finish her second novel.  Sounds pretty simple, right?

Frank is one of my most favorite characters.  He captured my heart within a few pages of meeting him.  He's nine years old, moving into the fourth grade, and is not a typical child.  Frank is a treasure trove of old Hollywood movie trivia, and he wears clothes that belong to the 30's and 40's.  Yes, this is a child who wears top hats, monocles, and zoot suits to school, at home, and everywhere else.  No t-shirts and jeans for this child.  Alice may not touch any of his things, and she cannot touch him without his permission.  He may at any time hold her hand, or hug her, but never the other way around.  

His mother, Mimi, is equally eccentric, and while a devoted mother, has issues of her own.  She locks herself away in her room, and won't allow any disruptions as she types her novel on an old fashioned typewriter  that belonged to her dead brother.   And there is Xander, who pops in and out, has a magical way of keeping Frank from having meltdowns, and fascinates Alice with his piano playing.  

It sounds like an interesting cast of characters, and it is.  Frank is an endearing little boy; a genius misfit who hates going to school because he has no friends and doesn't fit in.  His dialogue is spot on:  brilliant, witty, and so funny.  Mature beyond his years, yet a boy who only wants to spend time with his Mom.  
Mimi is a bit hard to know; she spends most of the novel locked in her office, typing away.  She's sharp and unfriendly to Alice, but you can tell there's more to Mimi and she's developed a protective armor to keep hurt at bay.  Xander is just a mess, yet at the same time provides the backbone to this oddball little family.  

There have been many comparisons to Where'd You Go, Bernadette;  this novel is similar to it and The Rosie Project in that the main character is not your average person with average problems.  Frank really is the central character in this story, told from Alice's perspective.  It is a great mix of funny, laugh out loud, teary-eyed moments that make this one of the most interesting reads this year.  For sure it will be in my top ten favorite reads of 2016.

Rating:  8/10 for introducing me to Frank, a young man who captured my heart.  

Thank you so much to Harper Collins for the advanced copy.  
This book is available in hardcover, e-book, large-print, and audio.


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