Be Frank with Me

Be Frank with Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062413734
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 16,571
File size: 687 KB

About the Author

Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children.

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Be Frank with Me 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All of the characters are a bit quirky and totally engaging. Frank, especially, is as unforgetable as Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird or any other fictional child I have ever loved!
Twink More than 1 year ago
Okay, I'm just going to start this post off by saying that Julia Claiborne Johnson's debut novel, Be Frank With Me, is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2016. Mimi Banning wrote one book twenty years ago - a brilliant book that brought her wealth and fame. But Mimi is a recluse. And now she's a broke recluse, having fallen victim to a Ponzi scheme. So, she needs to write a new novel. You see, it's not just Mimi - she has a nine year old son named Frank to support. She needs someone to watch Frank and run her household while she writes, so her long time publisher sends her twenty something Alice. That's the basic premise. But the premise is only a vehicle for the most wonderful character I've met in a long time. Okay, all of the players in Be Frank With Me were well written - and they're all flawed in some fashion, but it's Frank that will capture your heart. I loved him from the first page..."Before we left the house that morning, he'd shellacked his hair like a mini Rudolph Valentino, put on a wing-collared shirt, white tie and vest, a cutaway coat, morning pants and spats. Also a top hat...." Frank chooses his outfit carefully each day, matching plans, excursions and adventures to his outfits. That's the outside of Frank. Inside is a boy with a brilliant mind, who doesn't quite see the world as everyone else does. But despite that brilliant mind, he's still a young boy who is fragile as he tries to make sense of relationships and interactions in that world. The dialogue in Be Frank With Me is superb - Frank's voice is wonderful and as we come to know Frank, his declarations and antics really do make sense. I loved his recollection of facts, movies and music. (And actually learned a few things as well!) But those facts serve another purpose as well..."Facts were all the protection he had. Facts were his force field." Mimi is quite prickly and at first I didn't like her. But as the novel progressed, my opinion changed. As did my views on Alice - good to bad to good. And that's what I enjoyed - no one was perfect and the ending wasn't all happy campers. By turns, Be Frank With Me is heartbreaking, humourous and oh so very, very good. As one character says" I love that kid". Trust me - you will too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great characters in an unusual story. The longer you read the better it gets.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“’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. With thanks to GoodReads for this Giveaway copy to read and review.
TheLiteraryPhoenix 7 months ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a great read. The viewpoint character, Alice, ends up as the live-in assistant to a reclusive author with an eccentric ten year old. While it sounds like the setup for a thriller it is actually a wonderful heartwarming tale of learning to accept people for who they are not what you think they should be. What do you do with an extremely intellegent child that has already figured out that almost everyone else is not as intellegent as he is and never will be? I really like this book and will look for more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...and I mean that in the best way. Frank is enchanting.
smg5775 More than 1 year ago
Alice is sent by her boss to help M. M. Banning complete her newest novel. She takes care of Frank, M.M.'s son who loves vintage clothing and old movies. They have a lot of adventures together. I loved Frank. He was interesting. Alice had to adjust much of what she thought and did while with Frank and Mimi (M.M.) She thought one way but found out her boss did not necessarily mean what she thought. There are at least two different ways to take what is said and done by the characters in this book. Alice was a linear thinker at the beginning then started to see and think like Frank. The ending seemed incomplete to me. I know it's done so the reader can decide how the story does end. But like the rest of the book there are so many endings that could be done here. I want to know how the author sees it so I can agree or disagree with her. I'm glad I read this. I did not find it funny (like the quote on the front cover said) but moving and sad. It made me stop at times to see where Frank was headed with his thoughts and action. I also wondered who was actually the adult--Frank, Alice, Mimi, Xander (Frank's sometimes male figure.) This is not a book I will soon forget after the cover closes on the story.
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
This story is narrated by Alice, who is assigned to assist Mimi by Mimi's editor Mr. Vargas. Mimi wrote a huge hit when she was nineteen, and has written nothing since (think Harper Lee). Now financial woes are driving her to write another novel. When Alice arrives at Mimi's, she finds that she will actually be more of a babysitter to Mimi's son Frank than Mimi's assistant. Frank...oh, Frank. How do you describe Frank? Well, he's described in the book as a miniature Charlie Chaplin. With the mind of Albert Einstein, he dresses like a 1930s movie star, and evokes in those close to him equal amounts of adoration and terror. He evoked the same emotions in me. I adored Frank, but I also don't really think I would choose to have a Frank in my life. Mimi isn't kidding when she says, "My life was so much easier before I had Frank." Frank who has to have scissors and matches hidden from him. For example, one time he uses a battery and wire to start a fire when Alice can't find matches. Dear Frank, who has outbursts (sometimes violent, but always attention-getting). Frank is a handful, but he is also very endearing. Mimi is a very accommodating mother, letting Frank be Frank. She seems hard and stern, but she has a soft side with Frank. Her love for him is evident. Alice is doing her best to keep the house running, so Mimi can focus on writing. And she's doing a pretty fine (albeit thankless) job of it until Xander shows up and throws a bit of a hitch into things. My final word: I really liked this story. It was sweet and touching and quirky, if sad at times. Alice is a fine and reliable narrator for the story, and she has an intuition on how to handle Frank. Mimi is a tough old bird, and she ironically has a lot of walls for someone who lives in a glass house. Frank is "misunderstood". In a Procrustean world that doesn't look kindly on "different", Frank is like a spotlight in a dark room. He stands out and at times he's somewhat glaring and ostentatious. This is a quick, sweet story full of interesting characters and offbeat moments. I will most definitely be recommending this one to my book club! 4 1/2 stars
WhisperingStories More than 1 year ago
Be Frank With Me immediately stood out with its bright teal cover and simple artwork – I enjoyed the aesthetic and it fits perfectly with the persona of Frank, too. Be Frank With Me is told through the eyes of Alice, a young twenty-something sent to help out at the home of M. M. Branning (Mimi) whilst she knuckles down and writes a sequel to her one hit wonder novel. However, it isn’t just boring house cleaning and upkeep – Alice also has to look after Mimi’s eccentric son, Frank, who is the real star of the book. Reading this book in the 21st century, it is obvious that Frank has some form of disability or mental health problems. Whilst I’m definitely not an expert, so cannot delve further into this, I enjoy that there is no mention of this throughout the book. Yeah, Frank sees a psychiatrist, but is there an official diagnosis? No. Frank is Frank – the energetic, curious, eccentric, highly intelligent Frank. Frank is very similar to his Uncle Julian – I think this highlights that whilst times may change and we now feel as though we all MUST be diagnosed if we are slightly ‘different’, this has not always been the case. Yes, a diagnosis may help Frank and his family in understanding his actions and controlling his outbursts, but at the end of the day he is still a loved, happy little boy – diagnosed or undiagnosed. Just goes to show that we don’t always necessarily need a ‘label’ for our differences, flaws or issues. Frank is such an intriguing character, that I was eager to continue reading to learn more about him. Some reviews online state that there isn’t much of a plot, and it’s pretty boring. I have to disagree. Yes, this novel isn’t full of action and drama, but the fact that it doesn’t need to be packed to the brim of energetic events shows how strong a novel it is. To some, half a page of factual information was overkill, but in my opinion, without Frank’s monotone fact recital it would be difficult to understand the speed and way in which his mind jumps from one thing to another – one of the key things that make Frank, well, Frank! The author has managed to portray Frank in a believable manner (I feel the urge to note that I cannot call Frank’s character ‘realistic’ as I don’t know anyone with any similar attributes to compare), and also hits the nail on the head of Alice, too. Xander, on the other hand, I felt difficult to grasp. I didn’t really think he added much to the plot and found his household role difficult to understand. I do get the gut feeling he may have been added in afterwards, in order to get a couple of pages’ worth of romance in the book. Mimi, also, was a strange one – whilst I found her character difficult to understand on paper, I feel as though she would make an excellent character should the novel ever be made into a film. I would LOVE to see this made into a high budget film FYI – J-Law would make a fab Alice! The only negative I have to say about this book, is that I wasn’t left completely satisfied with the ending. I guess I just wanted it to end differently, although I do like that the story-line is left open – you could very easily write a sequel, as there isn’t any devastating finale or restricted cliff-hanger. I would happily read more books on Frank’s life and would love to see how he ages whilst remaining his eccentric self. There was also a lot of loose ends that I feel need tying up – what happens when Mimi finds out Frank hasn’t been going to school?....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First time I've felt compelled to write a review. I just loved this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed reading very much! Worth reading
MeezCarrie More than 1 year ago
Frank Banning is probably one of my favorite characters in recent fiction. He’s endearing and quirky and frustrating – so much depth and dimension in such a young guy. But then again, all of the characters in Be Frank With Me are like that. Not to the delightful extremes of Frank, perhaps, but all are endearing in their own way – most with a set of quirks that are intriguing and often frustrating. While the subject matter of Be Frank With Me isn’t a laughing matter per se, the author’s writing voice is so witty and the character of Frank so entertaining that you will find yourself grinning and laughing throughout the book anyway. When Alice first meets Frank, in fact, he is wearing silver cufflinks shaped like the masks of Comedy and Tragedy. In many ways, this can be seen as a subtle note from the author, a foreshadowing of sorts as to the tone of the book. A little bit of comedy and a little bit of tragedy mixed together in a hilarious, heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking story of family and love and finding your place. It’s also an homage of sorts to Los Angeles and old Hollywood and the kind of movies where people danced and sang and gave us great lines like “Here’s looking at you, kid”. Scattered throughout the book, whether because Frank is extolling their virtues or because he’s being compared to their style, these classic movies add to both the quirkiness and sentimentality of the story overall. In what I consider a stroke of genius, someone over at HarperCollins decided to include in the bonus pages (for books clubs, etc.) a section on “Recommended Film Viewing” with several of the films mentioned in the novel and the endearing quotes to remind you where they appeared. Made me smile all over again! Be Frank With Me is one of those brilliantly written books that is so much more than it first appears to be. Even with so much depth it is a quick read, yet it’s one you want to savor and it will definitely be one I reread. The characters have life and breath and are larger than the words on the page… and they take up residence in your heart where they continue to linger after you’ve finished reading. Witty and endearing in spite of the heartbreaking, Julia Claiborne Johnson strikes exactly the right tone for this novel and is an author I will keep on my watch list! (I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engaging characters and heart. Loved this book through and through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this story about quirky little Frank and his equally unusual mother.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sensitive and refreshing, a charming read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started reading and could not put it down. While every character had a story, I simply fell in love with Frank!
Dmaxtownsend More than 1 year ago
Alice Whitley has been tasked by her publisher boss to do whatever eccentric author M.M. Banning needs of her while she finishes writing her long-awaited second novel. Alice, a virtual babe in the woods, finds herself in California running the author’s household, cooking, cleaning and taking care of Frank, the author’s nine-year-old son while Mom retreats to her office to write. Frank is quirky, smart, fragile and oh so lovable. He doesn’t dress, he costumes. Today he might be Peter Pan, tomorrow Oliver Twist. His world view is taken mostly from vintage movies. He does not understand jokes or joking or irony. Where he goes, accidents and injuries usually follow. He has a cadre of adults who love him, but no childhood friends. He is a treasure: charming, frustrating, loving, and sharp as the tacks he so loves. Johnson has created a delightful character in Frank. He had much maturing to do, but we know he will never really fit in, and that’s good news. Why should he? This child, who is sometimes the only adult in the room, has captured my heart. I love this book. I want a sequel, even though it probably is not practical. I also would like to see this as a movie but would worry about being disappointed as we so often are with the movies our favorite reads turn out to be. This book deserves to be read and reread. Please do!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A short but sweet poignant story. I enjoyed this book greatly. Maybe, because as an educator and a parent, I recognize many of the Franks, Mimis, Xanders and Alices that I have had in my life. We need to learn, as a society, to value the often brilliant, non-conformity of others, and the struggles they face in a society that pushes for us to confirm.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've read in a long time Frank will capture your heart
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Completely different from what I have read in the past.
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson is a very highly recommended novel about a reclusive writer, her exceptional son, and the assistant sent to help her. After writing a beloved award winning novel decades ago at age 19, M. M. “Mimi” Banning is a recluse who never published another word. Now, after losing all her money, she has to write another book. She contacts her editor, Isaac Vargas, and says she will write a new book, but has two stipulations. First, she wants a large advance. Second the assistant who will be sent at the publisher's expense to ensure she meets her deadline must be able to drive, cook, clean, be sane, not an English major or Ivy Leaguer, and be good with kids. Vargas sends Alice Whitley, a 24 year old accounting major from Nebraska. Alice has been working as an assistant to Mr. Vargas and he thinks she is the perfect candidate to keep an eye on acerbic Mimi and take care of her son, Frank. Once Alice arrives, Mimi insists on calling her Penny, because she "looks like a Penny," and Mimi locks herself in her den to write. Alice becomes the care taker for nine year old Frank. Frank has a couple rules, starting with don't touch his things and don't touch him without permission. Clearly he is an intelligent boy with some form of Autism. He enjoys dressing in complete outfits, usually based on movies from the 1930's. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of older movies and a photographic memory for all manner of facts. Frank is partly charming and partly challenging. Life isn't easy for this displaced nine year old who requires constant supervision, rarely sleeps, and meets regularly with his psychiatrist. There are many items that Alice must keep from Frank, like scissors and matches, while she must also accept the fact that he will go through her things and is light fingered. Alice becomes increasingly curious about Frank. Who is his father? How does the mysterious piano teacher Xander fit into the picture? And is Mimi really writing her novel behind that door? Johnson delivers a wonderful debut novel with Be Frank with Me. The narrative will fully engage you. It's funny, poignant, and a satisfying story that will have you racing to see what happens next. The writing is pitch perfect as Johnson captures precocious Frank and matter-of-fact Alice. I finished Be Frank with Me in one sitting, which signifies Johnson's ability to write a novel that will hold and keep your attention. While on the surface Be Frank with Me seems like a light-hearted, fun read, but there is much more to this novel should you care to ponder it. Johnson provides some real depth in her characters. They are all unique individuals with a backstory and well developed. I did question why the school wasn't helping Frank more or offering supportive services when he'd clearly qualify for some support, but I was willing to suspend my questions about this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author failed to develop the characters .Frank had autistic tendencies that should of been mentioned , The book was a sleeper .