Frankly, very entertaining

A review of Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Alice Whitley, the narrator of this fun book, is sent from New York to Los Angeles by her publisher boss, Mr. Vargas, to work as an assistant to the writer M.M. (Mimi) Banning. Mimi needs to write her second novel as fast as possible. She has gotten herself in a pickle; an unwise decision to trust a financial advisor with her money has left her penniless and in need of instant income to prevent losing her house and the rights to her first book.

Mimi rocketed to fame when she was 19 after publishing a book that resembles The Catcher in the Rye in that it is perennially popular with young adults and taught in all the schools. Mimi herself resembles J.D. Salinger as she isolates herself in (of all things) a glass house in the hills of Los Angeles to hide from her groupies, after a disappointing marriage with the star of the film adaptation of her book, and after having Frank, now a 9-year-old genius phenom who tends towards Asperger’s. He lacks social skills, can’t read facial expressions and tends to injure himself and others when he gets upset – usually when someone touches him or his belongings. He is endearingly obsessed with films from the 1930s and 40s, quotes facts about the actors’ lives, and dresses in outfits resembling characters from his favorite films. 

Alice, in her 20s, is supposed to keep Mimi on track by entering her typewritten pages into the computer and sending them on to Mr. Vargas, a task she fails when Mimi wants nothing to do with her. Alice is left with being in loco parentis for Frank as Mimi locks herself in her room, opening the door only for meals. Fortunately for Alice, a handyman/Adonis shows up occasionally to alleviate her isolation and help with Frank. Xander has worked for Mimi both fixing things and teaching piano, but floats in and out of their lives, staying this time long enough to romance Alice while she ends up warming to her charge.

But then chaos ensues! I won’t ruin the climax for you, but I found it a tad unrealistic and unimaginative. However, I could picture the film version of it played as almost slapstick and therefore pretty funny. It didn’t ruin the book for me either. I found Frank cute and adorable, and the dynamic between all the characters interesting. For a debut novel, Johnson created some realistic, far-from-perfect characters and an engaging story.